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Cardinal Flower

Lobelia cardinalis L.


This native perennial plant is usually unbranched and 2–3½' tall. The central stem is ridged and rather hairy. The alternate leaves are up 6" long and 1½" across; they have a rough texture, a lanceolate shape, coarsely serrated margins, and a tendency to curl upward from their central veins. The lower leaves have short petioles, while the upper ones are smaller and sessile. The undersides of the leaves usually have fine hairs. The central stem terminates in a spike-like raceme of showy red flowers. This raceme is about ½–1½' long. Each flower has a narrow tubular structure that is upright and terminates in greyish white reproductive organs; these organs nod downward. Beneath this are 2 narrow side lobes and a lower lip that is 3-lobed. The green calyx is divided into 5 linear lobes that spread outward. The flowers are held at an upward angle in relation to the stem; they are about 1–1½" long and ¾–1" across. The blooming period occurs from late summer to early fall, and lasts about 1–1½ months. There is no floral scent. The small seeds can be carried aloft by the wind. The root system consists of a taproot. The preference is light shade to full sun, and wet to moist conditions. The soil should be fertile and contain plenty of organic matter to retain moisture. This plant doesn't like to dry out and has a reputation of being temperamental and short-lived. It is easier to establish this plant using transplants, as the seeds are quite small and the young seedlings are rather fragile.


Habitats include poorly drained areas of black soil prairies, lightly shaded floodplain forests, swampy meadows, gravelly seeps and springs, borders of lakes and ditches, and edges of pothole marshes. This plant often occurs near sources of water or moist woodland areas where depressions occur.

1 Species ID Suggestions

Cardinal Flower
Lobelia cardinalis

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1 Comment

keithp2012 9 years ago

Thank you for your help. That makes sense, red just like the cardinal bird :)

Spotted by

Laurel Hollow, New York, USA

Spotted on Aug 22, 2012
Submitted on Aug 22, 2012

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