Cardinal Flower A Delightful Dish For Hummingbirds
Lobelia cardinalis, better known as the cardinal flower, is an American wildflower from Southeast Canada through the United States and down to northern Columbia. It is shaped like a spike with dark green leaves that contain bright red tube-like flowers. Cardinal flowers can grow up to 4 ft. Tall. The leaves have jagged edges that can be up to 8 inches long. The cardinal flower likes to be grown in moist, fertile soil. It also prefers part shade. The plant is hardy from USDA zones 2-9. It may not be reliably hardy in zone 2, however.
The ruby-throated hummingbird loves the nectar of the cardinal flower and is one of the plant's primary pollinators. The Cardinal flower is believed to have been introduced to Europe around 1620. It is supposed to have gotten its name from the red color of the vestments of Roman Catholic Cardinals.
Traditional Uses for the Cardinal Flower
The cardinal flower is a lovely wildflower and garden plant. Cardinal flower was used in days gone by as a medicinal plant by the native people of North America. Indigenous people made tea of the root of the plant as a treatment for syphilis and intestinal problems. Drinks made from the plant’s leaves were used to treat colds and bronchial distress and prevent cold and flu symptoms. Dried leaves of the cardinal plant were used as a substitute for tobacco and were smoked and chewed. The Zuni people made a cake of the plants, which were then used to treat swelling and arthritis. Any member of the genus Lobelia is potentially toxic. Studies have been done using Lobelia as a treatment for neurological disorders with no conclusive medical results at this time.
Growing the Cardinal Flower
Keep the cardinal flower well-watered. It prefers shade in the afternoon. Deadhead the flowers to keep the plant blooming. Pinch the tops of the plant back to make a bushier plant.
Because the cardinal flower is a short-lived perennial, it is helpful to know how to propagate the plant and keep it an active part of your flower garden. You can also plant the ripe seeds elsewhere. Divide the plant every two to three years to keep the plant blooming and growing. Please do not cut the plants back in the fall, but allow them to self-seed.