Lobelia cardinalis

From The Plant Encyclopedia

Cardinal Flower

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The Cardinal Flower

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Lobelia cardinalis

Category Annual
Kingdom Plantae
Division Magnoliophyta
Class Angiospermae
Order Asterales
Family Campanulaceae
Genus Lobelia
Varieties in this species
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Aden Earth Zone

5 - 20


  • Cultivation: For-Gardeners
  • Light: Sun, Dappled, Part-Shade
  • Soil: Rich
  • pH: 7
  • Moisture: Medium


  • Form: Groundcover, Herbaceous
  • Habit: Perennial
  • Flower:
  • Fruit/Seed: Medium
  • Foliage: Leaves
  • Uses: Ornamental


Lobelia cardinalis (syn. L. fulgens, Cardinal Flower) is a species of Lobelia native to the Americas, from southeastern Canada south through the eastern and southwestern United States, Mexico and Central America to northern Colombia. It grows to about a meter tall (when in flower) and has bright red flowers.
Cardinal flower is often cultivated for ornamental purposes and has also been used for medicinal purposes.



It is a perennial Herbaceous plant that grows up to 1.2 m tall and is found in wet places, streambanks, and swamps. The leaves are up to 20 cm long and 5 cm broad, lanceolate to oval, with a toothed margin. The Flowers are usually vibrant red, deeply five-lobed, up to 4 cm across; they are produced in an erect Raceme up to 70 cm tall during the summer to fall. Forms with white (f. alba) and pink (f. rosea) flowers are also known.
Lobelia cardinalis is related to two other Lobelia species in to the Eastern United States, Lobelia inflata (Indian Tobacco) and Lobelia siphilitica (Great Lobelia); all display the characteristic "lip" petal near the opening of the flower and the "milky" liquid the plant excretes. L. siphilitica has blue flowers and is pollinated by bees, whereas L. cardinalis is red and is pollinated by hummingbirds.
L. cardinalis has been known to cause an upset in the digestive system when consumed.


It was introduced to Europe in the mid 1620s, where the name Cardinal flower was in use by 1629, likely due to the similarity of the flower's color to the vesture of Roman Catholic Cardinals. 

Cultivation and uses

This plant is easily propagated by dividing and spreading out the young plants which form around the older mature plants each year. Although the plant is generally considered a perennial any one plant may only live 7 to 10 years and then die. To ensure that your whole collection of cardinal flowers do not die off at the same time be sure to propagate some new plant lines using seeds at least every 4 years. Human activity also can interfere with the wildlife when getting the original seeds for your collection of "cardinal flowers".Taking seeds or roots of lobelia cardinalis to start your collection will stunt the growth of the "cardinal flower" population. Along with red forms of bee balm this plant is a must if you want to attract hummingbirds. In the wild it is pollinated by the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris).
North American indigenous peoples used root Tea for a number of intestinal ailments and Syphilis. Leaf teas were used by them for Bronchial problems and colds, inter alia. The Meskwaki people used it as part of an inhalant against Catarrh. Although not related to tobacco, it was apparently not smoked, but may have been chewed. The plant contains a number of Alkaloids. As a member of the Genus Lobelia, it is considered to be potentially toxic..Native Americans (the Penobscot tribes) smoked the dried leaves as a substitute for tobacco. Lobelia may have potential as a drug for, or in study of, neurological disorders.