Intense! Cardinal Flower positively glows with blooms that are as red and brilliant as brake lights. This is one traffic jam you can celebrate. Cardinal Flower’s blossoms arrive during the hottest, muggiest days of summer, when all of the spring blooms are spent, and much of the garden is taking a breather. Just when the landscape needs a pick-me-up, out come its neon-red flowers. Hummingbirds zero in on them the second they are open. Create a cozy sitting space in a shady spot nearby, and you’ll spend many lazy weekend afternoons watching their aerial maneuvers as they fight over the nectar-rich blooms!
Cardinal Flower is a cherished native wildflower found in all regions of the U.S. except for the Pacific Northwest. You might see it if you hike near shady streams in summer. Please don’t pick it if you see it in the wild! Overcollecting has reduced its numbers. Cardinal Flower has a long history as a medicinal herb among some Native American tribes. In the past, it was used as a cure for cramps and typhoid, and it was even used as a love potion! We strongly discourage eating any part of it, though—Cardinal Flower is toxic when ingested (but you’d have to eat an awful lot of it to get sick).
Besides attracting every hummingbird in the neighborhood, Cardinal Flower is also a magnet for butterflies. Large, showy swallowtails are especially fond of the luminous blossoms. At the same time, the toxic chemicals in the leaves keep deer and rabbits from munching on the foliage. Cardinal Flower attracts the kind of wildlife you want to see in your garden, but not the kind you don’t.
How to Grow
Steady moisture is key with Cardinal Flower. It does not take kindly to drying out. Mulch well, preferably with compost or leaf mold, to keep the roots cool and moist. Protection from the hot afternoon sun is also important, especially in warm climates. In cool northern regions, full sun may be an option. Cardinal Flower is not a long-lived Spirit, but plants reseed when happy, so provide the right conditions, and the planting will endure indefinitely. Cut plants back any time after they have cast their seed and before new growth resumes in the spring.
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