Content Detail

Cardinal flower is narrow and tall with multiple bright red flowers sprouting from the central stems from midsummer to early fall. They are effective at attracting hummingbirds, and the plant makes a great addition to a pollinator garden, rain garden, native garden, cottage garden, or near ponds and streams. This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region and current research.

  • Family (English) Bellflower
  • Family (botanic) Campanulaceae
  • Tree or plant type Perennial
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large plant (more than 24 inches)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Moist, Wet soil
  • Tolerances Occasional flooding, Wet sites
  • Season of interest midsummer, late summer, early fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Red
  • Shape or form Narrow, Upright
  • Growth rate Moderate
  • Wildlife Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Insect pollinators

Size and method of spreading:

Cardinal flower plants mature to 2 to 4 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide. They self-seed, but deadheading can prevent that from occurring. These can be short-lived perennials and allowing them to seed a little helps maintain the plant from year to year.

Native geographic location and habitat: (include C-value if appropriate)

Cardinal flower is native to the United States with the exception of the Northwestern states. C- value: 7.

Attracts birds or pollinators: 

Cardinal flowers attract beneficial bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. 

Leaf description:

Along the unbranched central stem, the leaves of cardinal flower occur alternately. Basal leaves also occur in clumps. The leaves towards the base of the plant have short stalks (petioles), but the leaves that grow higher along the stem may be stalkless (sessile). The edges of the leaves have fine, irregular teeth. Cardinal flower leaves are typically hairless (glabrous). They are long and narrow (lanceolate) with a pointy, tapered tip (acuminate apices). 

Flower description:

Cardinal flowers produce bright red blooms with an unusual structure. The petallike structure (corolla) is separated into a tubular structure containing the reproductive organs, two lateral lobes beneath the tubular structure, and a three-lobed lip under the lateral lobes. The reproductive organs emerge through a cleft in the tubular corolla structure and are whitish gray in color. Surrounding the base of the colorful corolla is a calyx that splits into five flared, leaflike lobes. They grow on individual stalks along a central stem (raceme inflorescence).

Fruit description:

Cardinal flower fruit is a small capsule that splits open at the tip when mature to release hundreds of tiny seeds. The shape of the capsule is round with a pointed cap. The calyx persists while the fruit matures.

Plant Care:

Cardinal flower plants can be pinched back to promote more compact, bushier growth. Deadheading can prevent self-seeding and promote additional blooms. These can be short-lived perennials and allowing them to seed a little helps maintain the plant from year to year. Do not let the soil dry out, as cardinal flowers need moist soil.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

No pests or diseases cause major issues for cardinal flowers. They are deer and rabbit-resistant.


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