Skip Navigation

Species Search:
FieldGuidesthreatened and/or endangered search resultsthreatened and/or endangered

previous  | next

Cardinal Flower Lobelia cardinalis


enlarge +

Cardinal Flower
credit: Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serive

All Images

3 articles:

Get Our Newsletters


Advanced Search

Family: Campanulaceae, Bellflower view all from this family

Description Erect leafy stems, often in clusters, with racemes of flowers resembling flaming red spires.
Habit: native perennial herb; erect, branched or unbranched, usually hairy, with milky sap.
Height: to 1.5-6 ft (0.5-1.8 m)
Leaf: alternate, narrow, elliptic to lanceolate, pointed, tapering base, irregularly toothed, usually hairy, to 8 in (20 cm) long, to 2.5 in (63 mm) wide.
Flower: bright scarlet or red, 5-parted, to 2 in (5 cm) long, short-stalked; with 2 small petals above, 3 larger petals below; in crowded terminal cluster, to 15 in (38 cm) long.
Fruit: capsule, ovoid to spherical, to 0.5 in (12 mm) wide, opening at the tip.

Warning The leaves, seeds, and roots of some plants of the Lobelia genus contain poisonous substances and have caused fatalities in humans and animals when ingested. All plants in the genus may contain toxins and should not be ingested. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

Flower July to October.

Flower May - October (in south); August - September (in north)

Habitat Stream banks, low woods, marshes, wet meadows, around ponds and lakes, wet prairies; widely cultivated.

Range Eastern and southwestern North America: Quebec to Florida, west to California and Nevada, northeast to Nebraska, Minnesota and Ontario.

Discussion A wetland indicator. Although relatively common, overpicking this handsome wildflower has resulted in its scarcity in some areas. It is protected in Arizona, Florida, and New York. Since most insects find it difficult to navigate the long tubular flowers, Cardinal Flower depends on hummingbirds, which feed on the nectar, for pollination. Its common name alludes to the bright red robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals.

In southern Arizona, Sierra Madre Lobelia (L. laxiflora) is also found; its corolla is red with yellow lobes or all yellow.

Comments The soil must be kept moist or wet at all times. A winter mulching in northern climes is beneficial.

Exposure Preference Sun to partial shade.

Native Distribution S. New Brunswick to Ontario & s.e. Minnesota, s. to Florida, Texas & s. California; plants of the western U.S. belong to ssp. graminea

Site Preference Swamps; stream banks; moist, wooded areas; meadows

Soil Preference Moist to wet, humus-rich soil. pH 5.5-7.

Wildlife Value In bloom, cardinal flower attracts hummingbirds.