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Cardinal Flower

AKA: Lobelia C

ardinalis, Indian Pink, Cardinal-flower, Cardinalflower, Cardinal Lobelia, Red Lobelia, and Slinkweed.

Propagation: Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis. Cardinal Flower is an evergreen species native to the Americas, from southeastern Canada through the eastern and southwestern United States, Mexico and Central America to northern Colombia. It tends to grow in very wet areas like stream bottoms, bogs and seeps. It is a native flower to Missouri and most of the Midwest. It is a popular perennial that produces a profusion of brilliant scarlet flowers atop 3- to 4-foot-tall plants. Native to wet areas in the U.S., will tolerate full sun if soil is kept moist. Propagate by seed, cuttings, division or separation - Sow seeds as soon as they are ripe. Self-sows readily. Some varieties are hybrids and will not breed true. Make stem cuttings in midsummer. In fall, divide new rosettes that form to the side of parent plants. Do not cut plants back in fall. Mulch lightly. While moisture-loving during the growing season, excess moisture can kill plants overwinter. These small seeds should be sown on the surface and gently pressed into moist planting medium. They can germinate in a few weeks at cool room temperature, or try outdoor treatment as more reliable.

History/Folklore: Its botanical history traces back to early 17th-Century explorers of Canada who sent it back to France. From thence it made its way into the English garden of John Parkinson (1567-1650). The common name, Cardinal Flower, is said to be a reference to the bright red clothing worn by Roman Catholic cardinals. In the Victorian era it represented distinction and has also been long associated with love and romance. Legend has it that if an elderly woman wants to find love she has to merely touch the root of the flower. It is said that some native American cultures added it to foods as an aphrodisiac and included it in love potions and charms. The Iroquois would use the whole plant as a treatment for overcoming grief.

Medicinal: Traditionally, the leaves, roots, and flower blossoms of Lobelia have been used for folk medicine. Some Native Americans used it for headache relief by crushing the plant and using a cloth to apply it to the pained area. A similar application method was used to apply crushed root to sores. They would also make an infusion with the root to treat digestive problems, typhoid, rheumatism, and worms, treat colds and fevers, syphilis. In conjunction with other plants, it was used to reduce pain and treat epilepsy. The flower blossoms and roots were used to treat cramps. It contains several alkaloids: lobeline, lobelamine, lobelanidine, lobelanine, norlobelanine, norlobelanidine, and isolobelanine. The fluid extract and the tincture have been used as an expectorant in asthma and chronic bronchitis, respiratory complaints and for tobacco withdrawal syndrome (due to the content of lobeline); it has been applied topically for bites, poison ivy and fungal infections.

*** All this, however, toxic side effects can include nausea, vomiting, coma, and possibly death by paralysis; it is deemed it poisonous by the FDA. ***

Spiritual: The Iroquois used the whole plant as a treatment for overcoming grief. It was widely used in spells, potions, charms and satchels for love. It was also considered protective: against witchcraft for the Iroquois, and against storms for the Meskwaki, for whom it was a non-smoked ceremonial tobacco.


The Cardinal Flower is a vibrant beautiful flower that draws hummingbirds and butterflies alike. It is a beautiful addition to any landscaping and a favored native flower to the Midwest. I encourage all of us to try to incorporate and propagate any of our native plants into our landscaping and enjoy the beauty that the Universe has given us naturally. Hope you enjoyed learning about this beautiful flower.

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