Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis
This North American native perennial blooms August through September on tall 3-4’ tall spikes. A member of the bellflower family (Campanulaceae), it grows best in part shade here in the south and thrives in wet soil, making it a good selection for naturalizing along stream beds and creeks. Because the leaves and fruit are poisonous (it contains alkaloids similar to those found in nicotine), it is not bothered by deer or rabbits, allowing it to grow and bloom freely in a woodland setting. The long red tubular flowers rely on hummingbirds for pollination, but it also attracts butterflies. Combine it with other wildflowers, perennials, and native plants for use in a wildlife habitat.
The genus, Lobelia, was named after the Flemish botanist, Matthias de L’Obel (1538-1616), and its species name cardinalis (Latin: “of a cardinal”) refers to the scarlet color of the cardinal bird.
Whence is yonder flower so strangely bright?
Would the sunset’s last reflected shine
Flame so red from that dead flush of light?
Dark with passion is its lifted line,
Hot, alive, amid the falling night.
Dora Read Goodale—Cardinal Flower.
Illustration: Sydenham Edwards (1817)