The cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, is a flowering plant in the Bellflower family. It is related to another member of the bellflower family, the American Bellflower. The cardinal flower is a perennial plant, yet only survives for a few years.
The Cardinal flower is an erect clump-forming perennial that has bright red blooms during the blooming season. The blooming season runs from July to September. These plants love moist ground so you can find them growing in the Ozarks along the edges of streams and rivers. It is known to grow best in moderately moist rich soils.
It is a favorite in flower gardens because the bright red blooms attract hummingbirds and long-tongued butterflies. Bees and other insects normally can’t access the nectar in the long bell-shaped flowers. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the main pollinator of the cardinal flower.
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Where is Cardinal Flower Found?
This is a native North American flower. It can be found from Canada to Central America. It was sent back to Europe in the 1620s and became known as the cardinal flower shortly thereafter. It is believed the name comes from the similarity of the color of the flowers to the color worn by Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church.
Whatever the origin of the name, they are not hard to spot when they are blooming. The bright red flowers stand out against the background of other flowers and greenery found along the margins of these wet areas.
Medicinal Uses of Cardinal Flower
Many Native tribes used this plant for medicine. From the leaves to the roots, different tribes used the plant in a number of ways to treat headaches, cramps, worms, fevers, and a host of other ailments.
We now know that this plant can be toxic but to what degree has not been determined. It contains an alkaloid called lobeline which affects the nervous system much like nicotine.
There are no studies that I found of any medicinal uses for Lobelia cardinalis, so this flower is probably best for admiring and not making medicinal preparations.
Considerations For The Garden
Cardinal flowers will self-seed in the flower garden. They only live for a few years, so they shouldn’t take over an area but will readily reseed. Once established they should return yearly to thrill you with their bright red flowers from late summer and into fall.