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Rare and Exceptional Plants for the
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Lobelia cardinalis Lobelia cardinalis

So you love butterflies and humming birds in your garden, huh?   Well,  Lobelia cardinalis draws them in like flies to honey.  In my garden,  you can find it growing in a moist seep on an eastern hillside.  By mid day, the birds,  bees and butterflies are swarming over the plants like a cloud,  gathering their nectar and pollen and insuring a good seed set.  The flowers are such a deep,  deep red that if you're taking more than a quick glance,  you'll have to put on your sunglasses.

There's a great closeup of the flower at:

The genus Lobelia gets its name from the Flemish botanist, Matthias de L'Obel (1538-1616). The species is called cardinalis for the color and shape of the corolla,  like the miter of a cardinal.  The common name "Cardinal Flower"....  well,  you get the idea.

I've selected a large flowered,  pure white form that I found growing amongst a colony of reds and pinks in the garden of my friend Kathleen Kust in Alexandria,  Virginia.  I've named it KK for her and we have it in tissue culture.

Lobelia cardinalis is easily propagated by the copious amounts of dustlike seed set in late Autumn.  You can sow the seeds in pots,  but take care not to cover them too deeply.  A good rule of thumb when sowing any type of seed is to cover it with a thickness of soil equal to the thickness of the seed.  I use a superfine germinating mix for sowing and cover with a layer of fine vermiculite.

You can also pull off some of the many new divisions set each year around the main stem.

Taxonomic Hierarchy
Kingdom -
Plantae - Plants
Subkingdom -
Tracheobionta - Vascular plants
Superdivision - 
Spermatophyta - Seed plants
Division -
Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class - Magnoliopsida - Dicotyledons
Subclass - Asteridae
Order - Campanulales
Family - Campanulaceae or Lobeliaceae
Genus - Lobelia
Species - cardinalis
Cultivar name - 'KK'
Common name - genus - 
Common name - species -
"Cardinal Flower"
Synonyms -
Native range -
See -
USDA Hardiness Zone - 4, most likely 3
Light preference -  Open bright shade to full sun
Soil fertility preference -    Average to rich
Soil pH preference - Slightly acidic
Soil moisture preference - Hydric - Mesic
Bloom time -  Mid - late Summer
Bloom color - Bright red
Fragrance - Nope
Foliage -  Glossy green
Spread - 6" - 12"
Height - 24" - 48"
Deer palatability - Seems deerproof
Landscape uses -  Margin of ponds or mid sun or shade border
Related species - Lobelia siphilitica,  Lobelia inflata
Medicinal uses - See:

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Barry Glick, Sunshine Farm and Gardens
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Last modified February 25, 2020