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Ohio NativesPlantsApril 29, 2023by Colin0Cardinal Flower

Cardinal Flower, scientifically known as Lobelia cardinalis, is a striking perennial plant that adds vibrant color and vertical interest to gardens and natural habitats. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the history, uses, growing instructions, color variations, how to harvest, and other essential aspects of the Cardinal Flower.

History and Significance

Cardinal Flower is native to North America and has a long-standing history as an ornamental plant. The name “cardinalis” refers to the vibrant red color of the flowers, reminiscent of the red robes worn by Catholic cardinals. Native American tribes also recognized the plant’s medicinal properties and used it to treat various ailments, such as respiratory issues and digestive disorders.

Garden Uses and Benefits

  1. Striking Landscape Feature: With its tall spikes of brilliant red flowers, Cardinal Flower creates a stunning focal point in gardens, borders, and naturalistic landscapes. It attracts attention from humans and pollinators alike, making it an excellent choice for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies.
  2. Wildlife Habitat: The nectar-rich flowers of Cardinal Flower attract a wide range of pollinators, including bees and butterflies. Additionally, the plant provides cover and shelter for small beneficial insects and birds.
  3. Water Garden Accent: Cardinal Flower thrives in moist soil and is a perfect addition to water gardens, boggy areas, or along the edges of ponds and streams. It brings a splash of color to these habitats and can withstand periodic flooding.

Growing Cardinal Flower

Here are some essential guidelines for successfully growing Cardinal Flower:

  1. Location: Plant Cardinal Flower in a partially shaded to full sun area. While it can tolerate some shade, it performs best with at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.
  2. Soil: Cardinal Flower thrives in moist, well-draining soil. It prefers loamy or sandy soil that retains moisture without becoming waterlogged. Amending the soil with organic matter, such as compost, can improve moisture retention.
  3. Watering: Cardinal Flower requires consistent moisture. Ensure the soil remains consistently damp but not waterlogged. Water deeply during dry periods or when the plant shows signs of wilting.
  4. Maintenance: Deadhead spent flowers regularly to encourage continuous blooming and prevent self-seeding. Cut back the stems to the ground in late fall or early spring. Mulching around the base of the plant can help retain moisture and suppress weed growth.

Color Variations

While the classic Cardinal Flower displays intense red blooms, there are some interesting color variations to explore, including pink and white cultivars. These variations can add unique charm and diversity to your garden, creating a different visual impact while still retaining the plant’s distinctive form.

Harvesting and Seed Saving

To harvest Cardinal Flower seeds, allow the flowers to fade and develop seed capsules. Once the capsules turn brown and start to split open, gently collect the seeds and store them in a cool, dry place. Cardinal Flower readily self-seeds, so collecting seeds can help control its spread in the garden.

Interesting Facts

  • Cardinal Flower is a member of the Campanulaceae family, which also includes bellflowers and lobelias.
  • The red flowers of Cardinal Flower are specifically adapted to attract hummingbirds, which are their primary pollinators. The long tubular shape and bright color are perfect for attracting these nectar-loving birds.
  • While Cardinal Flower is known for its red blooms, it can occasionally produce variations with pink, white, or even purple flowers.

Cardinal Flower is a captivating native plant that adds a vibrant touch to gardens and natural habitats. By incorporating this stunning perennial into your landscape, you can enjoy its beauty, support local wildlife, and contribute to the overall biodiversity of your surroundings.

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