Botanical Name: Lobelia cardinalis
Common Name: Cardinal Flower
Description: Stunning Florida native perennial that grows 2-5′ tall x 2′ wide with very showy scarlet tubular flowers blooming late summer into frost. Hummers depend on this plant for its abundance of nectar, along with butterflies and bees. Is beautiful as a woodland plant with part sun all day or morning sun/afternoon shade. But it will also grow in a more sunny spot as long as it isn’t a very dry area. Got a moist area in your garden or a rain garden? Cardinal flower will do perfect in either of those situations because it occurs naturally in floodplain forests, riverine swamps, spring runs and along river and stream edges. I wouldn’t call it drought tolerant, but it can definitely take our heat and humidity with no problem. An easy way to propagate this is to bend a stem down into the soil and put a rock over it to hold it down. It’ll root from that stem to give you new plants! It also reseeds itself nicely to give you new plants.
In Florida, it is a threatened species, so don’t mess with it when you see it growing in the wild. It is found primarily in north Florida, but is native to 42 counties in Florida from the panhandle to central Florida.
Cardinal Flower’s brilliant red blooms are are tubular and two-lipped, with wide-spreading petals that appear lobed, but are actually fused. They are born in terminal spikes and bloom from bottom to top. The plant generally dies back to a basal rosette in winter. Leaves are deep green (sometimes with a reddish tinge) and elliptic to lanceolate. They have serrated margins and are alternately arranged. Stems are pubescent. The plant exudes a milky sap when broken. Seeds are born in small capsules.
Not salt tolerant of inundation by salty or brackish water. Low/no tolerance of salty wind or direct salt spray.
Its genus, Lobelia, is considered to be potentially toxic because this plant contains a number of alkaloids. It is considered poisonous to humans and livestock if ingested. So add it to your Poison Garden, but don’t eat it.
This plant in 1-gallon containers is 1-2′ tall.
Plant Lore: Cardinal Flower once had ceremonial and medicinal uses for several Native American tribes. The Iroquois used cardinal flower to treat fever sores, cramps, and upset stomachs. It was often added to other medicines to increase their strength. The Delaware used cardinal flower as an infusion of roots to treat typhoid, while the Pawnee used the roots and flowers in love charms. The Meskwaki used the plant as a ceremonial tobacco, throwing it to the winds to ward off storms.
Florida Hardiness Zones 8 – 10