One of the lesser-known flowering plants, even though it is quite common throughout the world, the cardinal flower is nonetheless one of the most beautiful plants a human can have the luck to come across. It is found generally in marshes and along stream banks. Its deep, scarlet colors are vibrant and quite stunning, even from afar. The term cardinal flower is thought to have originated from the flower’s close resemblance to the vestiture worn by Roman Catholic cardinals, whose blood-red color so closely resembles the flower. There is even an old legend that speaks of a time when the touching of the roots of the cardinal flowers by an elderly woman could bring love to her door, always worth a shot!
Keep reading to find out the:
- Origins of the cardinal flower
- Cardinal flower facts
- Caring advice
- Seed planting
- Medicinal uses and risks
- Traditional uses
Origins of the Cardinal Flower
The cardinal flower was named for the botanist, French native Matthias de L’obel. It is a member of the Campanulaceae, or bluebell family, which has seven species. Known scientifically as the Lobelia cardinalis L, it was Originally native to the Americas, until it was brought over to Europe in the early 17th century. It can be commonly found in Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, New Brunswick in Canada, Central America, Mexico, and even northern Colombia.
Cardinal Flower Facts
A perennial plant, although quite short-lived, the herbaceous cardinal flower generally takes two years to bloom. It can grow upwards of 4 feet tall. The leaves can grow up to 20 cm long, with a generally oval shape. The flowers are 4 cm across, and the five-lobed petals come together into a double lip corolla, which is very delicate. The five stamens join a red base and culminate in anthers that resemble a mustache. The plant generally excretes a milky liquid.
Alongside its more well-known scarlet color, white, blue and pink flowers can be found as well. The blue variety, L. Siphilitica, are pollinated by bees, but the red is mainly pollinated by hummingbirds, with the ruby-throated hummingbird being the most dominant. This use of birds for pollination stems from its trumpet-like neck being too difficult for most insects to navigate, requiring the larger, more flexible birds to help it along.
Due to its generally growing around marshes and streams, the cardinal flower requires wet, fertile soil to grow in. A good amount of sun early in the day with more shade in the later afternoon is ideal for nurturing it. Packing the soil with lots of organic matter before planting improves the chances of the flower. Make sure to water them often if you plant outdoors and there isn’t much rainfall. In the fall season, fertilizing each plant with compost or a general-purpose fertilizer is best.
If you happen to be from colder climes, covering the plants with pine mulch can greatly help. Putting a good amount of mulch between each plant and spacing them at least a foot apart prevents the water from evaporating as much. If you happen to live near any deer, make sure to protect the flowers as deer happen to like eating them.
The beginning of summer is blooming season for the cardinal flower, ending in late summer, so make sure to check for when they are in full bloom if you wish to create some space for them to drop seeds for the next season. It is better to have scraped away some of the mulch so that the seedlings can drop into the soil directly. If you happen to want to start growing the seedlings yourself, you must start indoors close to eight weeks before the end of winter.
The seeds are very delicate, so gently scatter them into a seed flat with a mix of half peat and half perlite. After five weeks or so, you can separate them into plug trays, remember to keep them moist! Fertilize every two weeks, and about four weeks after transplanting they should be ready to move outdoors in the early spring.
Medicinal Uses and Risks
The Iroquois boiled the stems together with other plants to help with fever sores. The roots, stems, leaves, and blossoms were mashed together and drank for cramping and the plant was used for diarrhea and other ailments. It has also been used by some like the Pawnee in love potions and as an aphrodisiac in some others. The Delaware tribe even attempted to fight off Typhoid with an infusion of cardinal flower roots. Although there is no research yet to prove any of these medicinal effects, there has been some showing the potential toxicity of the plant, and ingestion can be shown to have very negative effects such as nausea, vomiting, weakness, convulsions and even inducing a coma. Due to this, ingesting it in any way is best avoided, and it is best to keep the plants away from animals.
The cardinal flower has been used for generations by Native Americans. The peoples of the Zuni tribe have been known to use the plant as an ingredient in their schumaakwe cakes. The Penobscot people, on the other hand, used it as a substitute for tobacco, smoking the dried leaves. The Meskwaki used it ceremonially, throwing the dried leaves to the wind to protect against storms. Unlike many other flowers, there is not much symbolism associated with the flower, possibly due to its American heritage, with many of our cultural mythologies of plants stemming from old Asiatic or European backgrounds.
The Scarlet Cardinal
Whether it is a beautiful outdoor garden, a shady spot near a windowsill in your home or simply an addition to a dull office, the cardinal flower is an excellent choice. The beauty of its vibrant red colors and tall appearance blend in well in any location. Ideally chosen by those who live in sunny climates with a touch of shade, this gorgeous flower might be the happy partner you have been looking for to grow alongside.