Lobelia cardinalis

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Lobelia cardinalis
Lobelia cardinalis - Cardinal Flower.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Campanulaceae
Subfamily: Lobelioideae
Genus: Lobelia
Species: L. cardinalis
Binomial name
Lobelia cardinalis

Lobelia cardinalis (syn. L. fulgens, cardinal flower) is a species of Lobelia native to the Americas, from southeastern Canada south through the eastern and southwestern United States, Mexico and Central America to northern Colombia.[1]


It is a perennial herbaceous plant that grows up to 1.2 m (4 ft) tall and is found in wet places, streambanks, and swamps. The leaves are up to 20 cm (8 in) long and 5 cm (2 in) broad, lanceolate to oval, with a toothed margin. The flowers are usually vibrant red, deeply five-lobed, up to 4 cm across; they are produced in an erect raceme up to 70 cm (28 in) tall during the summer to fall. Forms with white (f. alba) and pink (f. rosea) flowers are also known.[2]

Lobelia cardinalis is related to two other Lobelia species in to the Eastern United States, Lobelia inflata (Indian tobacco) and Lobelia siphilitica (great lobelia); all display the characteristic "lip" petal near the opening of the flower and the "milky" liquid the plant excretes. L. siphilitica has blue flowers and is primarily pollinated by bees, whereas L. cardinalis is red and is primarily pollinated by the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris).[3]

Lobelia cardinalis on the bank of Ichetucknee River, Columbia Co., Florida.


It was introduced to Europe in the mid-1620s, where the name cardinal flower was in use by 1629, likely due to the similarity of the flower's color to the vesture of Roman Catholic Cardinals.[4]


In cultivation L. cardinalis requires rich, deep soil which remains reliably moist year-round. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[5]

This plant is easily propagated by seed and dividing out the young plants which form around the older mature plants each year. Although the plant is generally considered a perennial, they may be short lived. They prefer moist soils in part shade.[6]

Medicinal and other uses[edit]

North American indigenous peoples used root tea for a number of intestinal ailments and syphilis.[citation needed] Leaf teas were used by them for bronchial problems and colds, inter alia. The Meskwaki people used it as part of an inhalant against catarrh. The Penobscot people smoked the dried leaves as a substitute for tobacco. It may also have been chewed.[7] The plant contains a number of alkaloids. As a member of the genus Lobelia, it is considered to be potentially toxic.[8] Lobelia may have potential as a drug for, or in study of, neurological disorders.[9] The Zuni people use this plant as an ingredient of "schumaakwe cakes" and used it externally for rheumatism and swelling. [10]


  1. ^ Germplasm Resources Information Network: Lobelia cardinalis
  2. ^ Missouriplants: Lobelia cardinalis
  3. ^ Caruso, C. M.; Peterson, S. B.; Ridley, C. E. (2003), "Natural selection on floral traits of Lobelia (Lobeliaceae): spatial and temporal variation", American Journal of Botany, 90 (9): 1333–40, doi:10.3732/ajb.90.9.1333, PMID 21659233 
  4. ^ Donaldson, C. (1999). Cardinal Flower – Spectacular Scarlet Blossoms That Hummingbirds Adore. Plants & Gardens News 14 (3). online at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Accessed 23 May 2006.
  5. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Lobelia cardinalis". Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  6. ^ Frances Tenenbaum (2003). Taylor's Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 244–. ISBN 0-618-22644-3. 
  7. ^ Guédon, Marie-Françoise. Sacred Smudging in North America, Walkabout Press 2000
  8. ^ Foster, Steven and James A. Duke. Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants. Peterson Field Guides, Houghton, Mifflin 1990 edn. ISBN 0-395-92066-3
  9. ^ Felpin F.-X., Lebreton J. , "History, chemistry and biology of alkaloids from Lobelia inflata" Tetrahedron 2004 60:45 (10127-10153)
  10. ^ Stevenson, Matilda Coxe 1915 Ethnobotany of the Zuni Indians. SI-BAE Annual Report #30 (p. 56)