Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Shady Character – Plants for the Shade in North Carolina

photo by Walter's Gardens

Outstanding Features
Remarkable for its rich red flowers, Cardinal Flower bestows a vivid splash of color to the garden in late summer when not much else is blooming. Its name comes from the flower’s similar color to the red robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals. Cardinal Flower is highly attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. Most insects find it difficult to navigate its long tubular flowers, so Cardinal Flower depends on hummingbirds for pollination. Deer usually don’t bother it. An underused native, it was chosen North Carolina Wildflower of the Year in 1982, 1983, and 2001.

Uses in the Garden
Growing 2’ to 4’ tall, Cardinal Flower is attractive at the edge of a woodland garden, planted with tall ferns to showcase its color. Plant at least three for visual impact. Favoring seepage areas in nature, its actual water needs are low and it will thrive in normal conditions. Cardinal Flower is a great addition at the edge of a pond, in a water garden container, beneath a birdbath or in a spot under the dripping faucet that never quite dries out.

How to Grow
Cardinal Flower will adjust to a wide range of soil conditions as long as it does not dry out completely. Plant in rich soil supplemented with compost to retain moisture. A part sun to shade environment is best in the South. Remove fallen leaves off the flower in fall as its rosettes need winter sun to survive. Not a long-lived perennial, it will seed in to make a small colony. Or increase by dividing clumps in spring or fall.

Rita Mercer is a shade garden advisor and owner of Rita’s Garden in Apex.  For a virtual tour of her garden or to contact her, visit

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