Cardinal flower is a type of lobelia. The stalks are at first unbranched, but later there are many flowering side branches. Flowers in dense racemes, terminal, with slender, leaflike bracts; arise from upper leaf axils; of typical lobelia shape with 2-parted upper lip and prominent, 3-divided lower lip; to 1 inch long; with protruding stamens; cardinal-red, rarely vermillion, very rarely white or pink. Blooms July–October. Leaves alternate, numerous, dark green, to 6 inches long, lance-shaped, finely toothed. Fruits capsules, ribbed lengthwise, with a crown of withered flower parts persisting at the tip.
Height: to 5 feet, but usually shorter (2-4 feet).
Where To Find
Scattered nearly statewide, but absent or uncommon in the western part of the Glaciated Plains Division. Cultivated statewide.
Grows in wet places: along rivers and streams, in openings of bottomland forests, ditches, sloughs, swamps, and lakes. Also found in cultivation, where it prefers rich, humusy, medium to wet soils and partial shade.
Because of its striking red flowers, this species was introduced very early into cultivation in Europe, and it remains popular there and in the United States. A Missouri native with exceptional landscaping potential, it has been named a Plant of Merit for St. Louis and other regional gardeners.
The red flowers of this species are attractive to hummingbirds, which are probably the major pollinators. Butterflies visit the flowers, too.
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!