Lobelia cardinalis L. – Cardinal Flower

General: Perennial herb; usually unbranched up to 1.5 m tall. The central stem is light green, terete, and sparingly to densely hairy. The root system consists of a taproot.

 

Leaves: Alternate leaves are 7–16 cm long and less than 5 cm wide. The rough-textured leaves are lanceolate in shape with irregularly toothed margins; they have a tendency to curl upward along their central veins. The lower leaves have short petioles, while the upper ones are sessile. The undersides of leaves usually have fine hairs.

 

Flowers: The central stem terminates in a spike-like raceme of showy red flowers (rarely white). The red corolla of each flower has a narrow tubular structure that is upright and terminates in grayish white reproductive organs; these organs nod downward. Beneath this are two narrow lateral lobes and a lower lip that is three-lobed. The green calyx is deeply divided into five linear teeth that spread outward. The flowers are held at an upward angle in relation to the stem; they are about 3–4.5 cm long and 2–2.5 cm across. The blooming period occurs from late July to September, lasting about four to six weeks. There is no floral scent.

 

Fruits: The small seeds (capsules) can be carried aloft by the wind.

 

Where found: Moist meadows, swamps, and stream banks from Minnesota to New Brunswick, south to eastern Texas and Florida.

 

Notes: The brilliant red flowers attract hummingbirds as pollinators, their long thin beaks reaching down to the base of the long narrow corolla tube for nectar.

 

There are cultivated varieties available (http://myfolia.com/plants/1426-cardinal-flower-lobelia-cardinalis/varieties), but I think the native species is spectacular in its own right. [Brian Haddon, GOWGHS]

 

 

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