Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Cardinal Flower
Lobelia cardinalis

Family: Campanulaceae (kam-pan-yew-LAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Lobelia (low-BEE-lee-a) (Info)
Species: cardinalis (kar-dih-NAL-iss) (Info)

Synonym:Lobelia splendens
Synonym:Lobelia fulgens
Synonym:Lobelia speciosa

27 vendors have this plant for sale.

89 members have or want this plant for trade.

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24-36 in. (60-90 cm)

15-18 in. (38-45 cm)

USDA Zone 2a: to -45.5 C (-50 F)
USDA Zone 2b: to -42.7 C (-45 F)
USDA Zone 3a: to -39.9 C (-40 F)
USDA Zone 3b: to -37.2 C (-35 F)
USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 C (-30 F)
USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 C (-25 F)
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 C (-20 F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 C (-15 F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)

Sun Exposure:
Sun to Partial Shade

All parts of plant are poisonous if ingested

Bloom Color:

Bloom Time:
Mid Summer
Late Summer/Early Fall


Other details:
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater
Requires consistently moist soil; do not let dry out between waterings

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
By dividing the rootball
From seed; winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse
From seed; sow indoors before last frost

Seed Collecting:
Allow pods to dry on plant; break open to collect seeds

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25 positives
10 neutrals
1 negative

Gardeners' Notes:

Neutral coriaceous On Dec 2, 2014, coriaceous from ROSLINDALE, MA wrote:

I've had a hard time overwintering Lobelia cardinalis and its hybrids. They form an evergreen rosette that does not seem to like having mulch on it.

"Lobelias are not true perennials, because the flowering stem and its associated roots die after setting seed. They are perennial in effect only because new offsets grow from the axils of the lowermost leaves and quickly put down their own abundant white roots. It is especially important, then, that these new offsets be coddled a little in the fall."--- William Cullina, Growing and Propagating Wildflowers

L. fulgens is not a synonym, but a separate, tender species native to Mexico and Central America.

L. x speciosa is the grex name given to hybrids between L. cardinalis and L. fulgens, which are hardy only to Z8/7.

Positive wakingdream On Oct 8, 2014, wakingdream from Allentown, PA wrote:

Lobelia cardinalis is the reddest red I've ever seen, nearly psychedelic in its intensity. It draws hummingbirds and bumblebees every year. I have it placed in rich soil which stays more moist than other areas and it gets full sun until about 1:30 pm. The reseeding is reliable, with rain storms washing the seeds in a little river to the cracks in the flagstone patio adjacent to the bed. Lobelia's root system is very distinctive and can help identify seedlings if you are pulling "weeds" and come across one. Roots remind me of a stark white mophead, with many strings emanating from the crown in all directions, quite close to the soil surface. Red Lobelia does not like to be mulched in winter, even though it is a temptation to place a blanket of needles on top, I resist. Snow I can't control, however. Heights become taller as the division gets older and stronger. I have stalks going to 4 feet normally and some a bit beyond. It transplants easily to share with others and is forgiving about root disturbance. Seedheads are drying on the stalks right now, October. Seeds resemble reddish dust, they are so small. This native plant is an eye-popper when in bloom and never fails to draw attention of garden guests.

Positive FlyPoison On Oct 8, 2014, FlyPoison from Rock Hill, SC (Zone 7a) wrote:

I love planting this native to help attract hummingbirds and other beneficial creatures. In the South where I live they prefer shade and wet soil. I often find them growing along creeks, rivers and in boggy areas that have standing water for several months at time. Here they grow fine being submerged for long periods of time. They do best in rich and heavy soils.

Positive Lovehum On Feb 20, 2014, Lovehum from (Zone 6b) wrote:

Excellent hummingbird nectar plant. Vertical flower stalks. Grew best here in full sun, good moisture. It bloomed most heavily in August for me.

Positive nutsaboutnature On Jul 4, 2013, nutsaboutnature from Algonquin, IL (Zone 5a) wrote:

I Love this plant and so do the Hummingbirds!
They grow tall...very tall...mine grew 4-5 feet! The blooms are vivid red and they bloom during a time when many plants are finished, in late Summer to early Autumn.

I have them growing in two different beds, one partly sunny and one mostly shady. Almost every year in early Spring the mostly shady bed gets a little flooded.

This past Spring that bed was under about 2-3 inches of water as Spring thaw combined with heavy rains. That flooding lasted about 2 weeks.

Naturally, I assumed all my plants would be lost. Surprisingly, some of them survived...and thrived. One of them was Lobelia Cardinalis (Cardinal Flower).

Unfortunately, my first attempt at growing Cardinal Flower failed, possibly something wrong with the plants I purchased. They grew beautifully to about 12 inches tall than suddenly wilted and died.

I wasn't about to give up. The next year I planted a few more from a different source. They thrived, but that's when I learned they don't bloom the first year. However, the next year they bloomed and bloomed and bloomed and the hummers were there constantly!

They, apparently, aren't long-lived, but they will self-sow so leave them standing. You can also collect the seeds and I've been told that if you divide the roots those will bloom the first year you plant them. After this year I will probably divide them as I definitely want more of these plants!

Positive Bazuhi On Sep 4, 2012, Bazuhi from Downers Grove, IL (Zone 5a) wrote:

September 2012(First time growing this plant)
I wanted something for the hummingbirds so I ordered 4 plants from Forest Farm nursery a mail order catalog based on the reviews on this site..They say this plant is okay with zone 5 and will reseed easily. The plants arrived on August 30th and they look great..They are about 6-12 inches high and a single stem with new growth on the bottom. (I will have photos in my journal and will be included in my review of ForestFarms) I let them settle and acclimate then planted them on Sept 4th in an area that appears to remain damp at the end of a septic line. I am really hoping this is enough moisture for them to go wild with with additional water from me of course. Other plants have not done as well in this area due to the dampness so maybe I found the one that will flourish. I will post again thier status as the growing season comes to an end and update if they come back or not next year. (I will update photos in my journal about this plant as I also like to see how it grows.)
**August 2013**
Well here is my update, I am happy to report that the plants have gotten pretty tall with very pretty flower heads on them. The flower color is so amazing I want to plant more. Yes these are def the back of the border plant due to thier height. I have also found mine are easly knocked over by the dog walking by them so I have now inclosed them inside fencing. Yes the hummingbirds are visiting and since they are the only pollinators of this plant I hope we get re-seeding. I would love to have a clump of them here and there but with my soil I am not holding my breath on seeds starting. I will certianly be adding them to my must purchase more list for 2014!!

Neutral amallen On Aug 13, 2012, amallen from Johns Island, SC wrote:

We have a few wild cardinal flowers that grow near a saltwater marsh in partial shade. They don't compete well with the other plants even though I see them occasionally in other wooded areas on the island.

I planted several giant lobelia and cardinal plants this past Spring. We had a very mild winter here on the SC coast so the deer shouldn't have been hungry. However, they nailed all the ones planted in the sun, literally tore them out of the ground and those in the shade have been eaten to the ground twice.

Positive penpen On Sep 24, 2011, penpen from North Tonawanda, NY (Zone 6a) wrote:

Excellent perennial for boggy/wet garden spots. Does well in sun or shade. Excellent nectar plant for hummingbirds.

Neutral gtr1017 On Aug 25, 2011, gtr1017 from Roanoke, VA wrote:

I see these growing wild here in the area, I have observed that these plants like moisture and can handle some shade, I almost always see them growing on the creek bank. Something to consider when planting.

Neutral snowmanmaker On Apr 25, 2011, snowmanmaker from Osseo, MN wrote:

I love this flower and have tried to grow it from smaller than gallon size with no luck. I have great luck with lobelia speciosa fan deep rose in gallon pots, so will try this from gallon pots this year. I'd say in my zone 4 garden they are less happy in partial shade than they are in part sun. Could have been too dry in one part shade spot also. If you need a gorgeous red, this is it--crossing my fingers!

Neutral alabamawoman On Feb 21, 2011, alabamawoman from Huntsville, AL (Zone 7a) wrote:

I would like to add this plant to my shade garden area. Do you know if it will tolerate growing with a Black Walnut tree nearby? I have ferns, hostas, primroses, and heucheara (sp?) that grow well in that spot. Anyone with experience on this?

Neutral geneshere On Sep 1, 2010, geneshere from Kent, WA wrote:

I like this plant, but....when I planted the plants they were brilliant red blossoms. This year (the 2nd or 3rd year) the 2 plants are now a deep, dark intense purple. Is there something that would cause the color change? I have not been able to locate any information about this plant changing it's color. They are still very beautiful, just not the brilliant red they were when I planted them.

Positive Clary On Jul 16, 2010, Clary from Lewisburg, PA (Zone 6b) wrote:

This plant is the superstar of my perennial garden.

The color is a brilliant true red that is very attractive to hummingbirds. Like another poster noted, the hummingbirds do guard and compete for this flower.

As another member also noted, the color is extremely vivid and will not compliment some other red flowers. My reds are limited to Crocosmia 'lucifer' and shrub roses for this reason.

This plant grows to about 5-6' tall in my garden. It is planted behind a birdbath in rich soil where the roots are in constant moisture and consistent shade. The flower stalks are in full sun.

I started with 3 mail order plugs a few years ago and now have a scattered clump about 2' square that has over a dozen flower stalks.

The large plants make "babies" at their base and spread in this manner. Also, flower stalk cuttings can root by cutting off a few of the flowering stalks low enough to include about 8" of leaves, then sticking the stalks deep into consistently wet soil. The plants also reseed reliably.

I've gotten skilled at identifying its very small seedlings so that I can transplant them; I've had no luck moving large seedlings or plants. This plant is very sensitive to having it roots disturbed. When I removed a nearby plant midsummer, the cardinal flower beside it died.

Negative SalviaFanatic5 On May 1, 2010, SalviaFanatic5 from Dover, DE wrote:

I wish this short-lived perennial didn't dissolve right before my eyes. It was hard to see that I bought such a nice looking plant in hopes it would continue on in my garden. It feathered out in the middle of some daylillies. I left it alone. It didn't like to be watered a lot so I watered once a week. It didn't survive. I hope this helps for those who live in my area.

Positive HummingbirdDude On Dec 12, 2009, HummingbirdDude from Whitehall, PA wrote:

I have seen this plant growing wild along the river north of my house. I plan on purchasing some in the spring to add to my hummingbird/butterfly garden. I am going to try planting it in a container to make a boggy kind of habitat for it, since this plant likes wet conditions.

Neutral bgp1 On Nov 29, 2009, bgp1 from Tecumseh, MI (Zone 5b) wrote:

An interesting plant that is a maroon color with bright red flowers and an upright growing habit. Hummingbirds really like eating from the flowers. Here in Michigan these are considered a wildflower, however, for some reason they seem to act as an annual and only live for one growing season. Sometimes these become top-heavy and require staking and tying.

Positive beverly710 On Sep 29, 2008, beverly710 from Newalla, OK (Zone 7a) wrote:

All of mine came up as surprises...I have no clue where they came from. They self sow profusely. I have harvested the seeds and they have never let me down...and grow just about anywhere I have spread the seeds. The hummingbirds flock to them and seem to stake them out as part of their territory, so they are a wonderful asset to any garden.

Positive heavenlybamboo On Sep 22, 2008, heavenlybamboo from Centerville, MO wrote:

I have successfully rooted cuttings of this plant under a glass jar in a pot of miracle grow on my shady front porch. I have the red-violet or magenta colored form of the wildflower. It is not a hybrid.

Positive Cyprepedium On Jul 31, 2008, Cyprepedium from Palmer, MA wrote:

For decades I admired Lobelia cardinalis when I would encounter it in Massachusetts wetlands. I also found it when I lived in the Midwest and in Texas. Now that I am back in New England and have my own garden, I decided to try to grow this beautiful wildflower.

I purchased a plant in May 2008 from a reputable area nursery. It had three stalks. I planted it in a sunny location, and gave it plenty of water. As time went by, more stalks sprouted. I then bought four more plants. These four did not survive, probably because they were planted at a time when we had 90+-degrees weather (the heat was not helpful to the plants already stressed from transplanting). This year (2009), the first plant I had bought last year came back, strong and healthy. The nursery replaced the four plants I had lost last year.

All but one of my plants have flowered beautifully, and hummingbirds have been paying frequent visits!

My plants are now getting ready to make seeds. For this year, I think I'm going to leave the plants alone to see if they self-sow. The intensely pure scarlet red of this flower makes it worth the effort to try to get it to grow in the garden.

October, 2012

Over four years since I first planted my L. cardinalis I've watched them gradually spread. This year, I even found one that took root in a crack in the sidewalk near the garden! I made sure it was protected, and it happily flowered along with its companions.

My L. cardinalis plants get about 4-5 hours of direct sun in the summer. I found that, for my circumstances, I need to "flood" the area where they're planted at least once a day in the hot weather to make sure they stay hydrated. The reward? Several weeks of beautiful flowers on sturdy stalks. While they were in flower, the hummingbirds visited dozens of times each day.

Positive dkm65 On Aug 16, 2007, dkm65 from Cedar Falls, IA (Zone 4b) wrote:

One of the most intense, deep red flowers. The only drawback is that it will make you realize how your other red flowers aren't as intensely red as you thought in comparison. It is must in a native rain garden, and likes well-drained soil that gets a bit more rain runoff than usual (swales and depressions in your garden). It can tolerate some drought as well, as it is very deep rooted.

As others have said, it is a hummingbird magnet supreme. We have honeysuckle, trumpet vine, columbine, monarda, royal catchfly, etc., but none of our other hummingbird-attracting plants draw them like cardinal flower.

It looks really good interplanted with its sibling great blue lobelia (L. siphilitica) with its blue flowers matching the cardinal flowers in intensity of color, and their similar bloom time.

It is a shorter lived species than siphilitica, but as some have pointed out reseeds readily. Still, in a mature native garden with lots of assertive species, you may need to add a few plants from time to time. You'll probably find yourself adding a few more plants in future years just because you want more of it as time goes by anyway.

Positive JasperDale On Jun 21, 2007, JasperDale from Long Beach, CA (Zone 10a) wrote:

I have had enormous success with this lobelia, which I planted from 4" pots. The first year, they just sort of sat there (like most perennials), but each successive year the plants have done wonderfully, and I have divided them several times. They are extremely easy to grow and only require being consistently moist, and not allowed to dry out.

A great brilliant red !

Positive Happy_1 On Aug 8, 2006, Happy_1 from Chicago, IL (Zone 5b) wrote:

This is 37" out of the pot and doing great. I got it when is was very small and it's just doing great in 10b ZONE.....

I was a bit confused at the beginning because the flower arose from a stem that was over an inch wide. Infact it looked like more of a stalk then a stem. Hap

Positive j3soft On May 6, 2006, j3soft from New Castle, PA wrote:

Hummingbirds flew to the plants as I was carrying them to the backyard after purchasing them at Lowe's Garden Center.

Hummingbirds fiercely guard my Lobelia cardinalis, sometimes even chasing me away from them.

Easily grown and propagated.

Positive pineapplesage On May 1, 2006, pineapplesage from Pewaukee, WI wrote:

The hummingbirds would not leave this flower alone. It survived the winter and came back in my zone 5. Always a positive. I did need to stake the flower stalk a bit in the midwest winds.

Positive woodspirit1 On Oct 5, 2005, woodspirit1 from Lake Toxaway, NC (Zone 7a) wrote:

The pH requirements listed for this plant are questionable. It grows in the Appalachian Mountains wild, but the soil is very acid. I also see it growing in ditches regularly. I don't think it needs good drainage. It may tolerate soil that is mildly alkaline but my experience is that it likes acid soil.

Positive Breezymeadow On Jan 27, 2005, Breezymeadow from Culpeper, VA (Zone 7a) wrote:

While I have not yet tried to grow the domesticated version of this plant at my current Zone 7 location, when I lived in a Zone 6 mountain area of Virginia, I had quite a few of the wild plants growing along the marshy edges of a stream that flowed thru a dense woodland area of my property.

The plants were truly lovely & the flowers seemed to "glow" in the dense shade. A really true brilliant red. With all the deer we had there, they never touched these plants, so I assume that this might be a good plant for gardeners with a moist shady area + a deer problem.

Positive pokerboy On Jan 26, 2005, pokerboy from Canberra
Australia (Zone 8b) wrote:

This plant has a beautiful, firey red flower. In cold winter areas much to protect from frost heaving. In the warmer winter areas winter mulch may rot the crowns. This plant selfsows prolifically. pokerboy.

Neutral tcfromky On Oct 11, 2004, tcfromky from Mercer, PA (Zone 5a) wrote:

The Lobelia species contains alkaloid lobeline which is poisonous in large doses but in small quantities is used in a number of medicinal preparations used quit smoking, revive persons from drug overdoses or as a psychoactive drug.

An interesting historical account relates that cardinal flower and lobelia, in sites in Nebraska were found in close association to historic Pawnee villages, suggesting the Pawnee introduced and cultivated it. Another source relates that Cherokee medicine men cultivated it for medicinal purposes.

Positive julie88 On Sep 14, 2004, julie88 from Muscoda, WI (Zone 4b) wrote:

This plant pops up in the shady dampish back water marsh areas of the Wisconscin River (zone 4b). But ut never seems to show up in the same place two years in a row.

Positive sparkyann2 On Sep 7, 2004, sparkyann2 from Madison, ME wrote:

Hummingbirds like this. Great late bloomer in my area when most bright colors have faded.

Neutral beverlyf On May 29, 2004, beverlyf from Weimar, TX (Zone 8b) wrote:

I have just planted a Cardinal Flower Lobelia in a damp area. I hope it will survive there. I bought it at a watergarden nursery.

Positive max2cleo On Apr 24, 2004, max2cleo wrote:

excellent pond plant

Positive flowerman On Jan 28, 2004, flowerman from Saint Louis, MO wrote:

a hummingbird magnent.

Positive dreamer On Sep 15, 2003, dreamer from Natchez, MS wrote:

I found these plants flowering near the bank of the lake where I live. I am watching carefully for ripe seeds for my garden. The flowers are absolutely beautiful and blooming when my late season garden could use a big shot of dazzaling color like this.

Positive ButterflyGardnr On Jan 9, 2003, ButterflyGardnr from Orlando, FL (Zone 9b) wrote:

The plants I have produced large, showy spikes of red flowers. It definitely prefers moist soil and will grow from seeds if the soil conditions are favorable. This flower is a hummingbird attractor.

Neutral Baa On Aug 31, 2002, Baa wrote:

An upright perennial native to North America.

Has lance shaped, mid to bronzy green, shiny, toothed leaves borne on reddish or green fleshy stems. Bears 2-lipped, bright red flowers on tall flower spikes.

Flowers July - September

Loves a moist but well drained soil in sun or light shade. Make sure the soil never dries out for too long.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Auburn, Alabama
Decatur, Alabama
Houston, Alabama
Barling, Arkansas
East Shore, California
Knights Landing, California
Long Beach, California
Hamden, Connecticut
Monroe, Connecticut
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Keystone Heights, Florida
Lutz, Florida
New Port Richey, Florida
Oldsmar, Florida
Trenton, Florida
Cordele, Georgia
Cornelia, Georgia
Dallas, Georgia
Milledgeville, Georgia
Algonquin, Illinois
Divernon, Illinois
Downers Grove, Illinois
Frankfort, Illinois
Machesney Park, Illinois
Mackinaw, Illinois
Midlothian, Illinois
Hobart, Indiana
Jeffersonville, Indiana
Cedar Falls, Iowa
Cedar Rapids, Iowa (2 reports)
Indianola, Iowa
Sioux City, Iowa
Yale, Iowa
Derby, Kansas
Olathe, Kansas
Shawnee Mission, Kansas
Louisville, Kentucky
Homer, Louisiana
Madison, Maine
Skowhegan, Maine
Parkville, Maryland
Valley Lee, Maryland
Boston, Massachusetts
Palmer, Massachusetts
Reading, Massachusetts
Mason, Michigan
Tecumseh, Michigan
Natchez, Mississippi
Ballwin, Missouri
Blue Springs, Missouri
Centerville, Missouri
Cole Camp, Missouri
Piedmont, Missouri
Saint Louis, Missouri
Sandown, New Hampshire
Frenchtown, New Jersey
Hampton, New Jersey
Jersey City, New Jersey
Whitehouse Station, New Jersey
Whiting, New Jersey
Blossvale, New York
Croton On Hudson, New York
Garrison, New York
Jefferson, New York
Wallkill, New York
West Islip, New York
West Kill, New York
Concord, North Carolina
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Lake Toxaway, North Carolina
New Bern, North Carolina
Southport, North Carolina
Cincinnati, Ohio
Fremont, Ohio
Glouster, Ohio
Newalla, Oklahoma
Bend, Oregon
Portland, Oregon
Walterville, Oregon
Allentown, Pennsylvania
Altoona, Pennsylvania
Apollo, Pennsylvania
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
New Castle, Pennsylvania
New Freedom, Pennsylvania
Norristown, Pennsylvania
Port Matilda, Pennsylvania
Quakertown, Pennsylvania
West Chester, Pennsylvania
Wynnewood, Pennsylvania
Conway, South Carolina
Greenville, South Carolina
Johns Island, South Carolina
Ladys Island, South Carolina
Rock Hill, South Carolina
Salem, South Carolina
Summerville, South Carolina
Morrison, Tennessee
Mount Juliet, Tennessee
Rockwood, Tennessee
Viola, Tennessee
Austin, Texas
Conroe, Texas
Fort Worth, Texas
Houston, Texas
Jacksonville, Texas
Katy, Texas
Murchison, Texas
Nacogdoches, Texas
New Caney, Texas
Princeton, Texas
Spring, Texas
Basye, Virginia
Blacksburg, Virginia
Chesapeake, Virginia
Great Falls, Virginia
Leesburg, Virginia
Lexington, Virginia
Manassas, Virginia
Reston, Virginia
Roanoke, Virginia
East Hill-meridian, Washington
Kalama, Washington
Seattle, Washington
Canvas, West Virginia
Birchwood, Wisconsin
Cambridge, Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin
Muscoda, Wisconsin
Pewaukee, Wisconsin
Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin

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