I’m very fond of flowers that are vigorous and tough, almost thuggish. But there are a few fussy plants that I still find worthwhile. One of these is cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).
Cardinal flower, a North American native, blooms in a clear, vibrant shade of red that you find almost nowhere else. The tubular flowers have a fascinating shape, with a prominent three-lobed lower “lip.” This is a premier plant for attracting hummingbirds.
Lobelia cardinalis likes part sun and lots of moisture. I have mine growing by a downspout. They have semi-evergreen basal rosettes. These need winter protection where I live, and are vulnerable to both smothering and heaving. The flowers grow on stalks that can reach 3′ or higher and often need staking.
You have to be careful about which plants you combine with cardinal flower. They can’t handle much competition. Up until now, I’ve been using like annual blue lobelia (Lobelia erinus). I’m thinking of trying scotch moss (Sagina subulata) or Australian violet (Viola hederacea).
Great blue lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica) is a more adaptable related species with blue flowers. The botanical name comes from the fact that people thought it could be used to cure syphilis. They were wrong. There are also a number of cultivars, but none of them have the straight species’ captivating shade of red.
So if you love red, don’t mind providing a little coddling, and have a moist spot in part sun – give cardinal flower a try. What are your favorite plants for red, or that require a little coddling?