Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Lobeliaceae (Lobelia)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist, sandy, loamy soil; wet meadows, open woods, shores
Bloom season:July - September
Plant height:1 to 5 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACW MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: raceme Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] Flowers are in a spike-like raceme up to 2 feet long at the top of the main stem. Individual flowers are crimson red, 1 to 1½ inches long, and tubular. The upper lip is split into 2 lobes that spread out sideways; the lower lip is divided into 3 lobes of approximately the same size and shape. A style with a hooked tip rises up between the upper lobes. One plant usually has a single spike and numerous flowers

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are up to 6 inches long and 1½ inches wide, coarsely toothed, usually hairless, tapering to a sharply pointed tip. Leaves near the base of the plant have short leaf stalks, becoming stalkless farther up the plant. Attachment is alternate. The stem is angled and usually hairless.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of seed] Fruit is a small capsule, containing many tiny, oval, semi-translucent golden seeds. The surface of the seed is covered in a network of fine ridges and tiny shiny scales.


Cardinal Flower is an easy plant to ID—nothing else has this deep red flower color combined with this flower shape. Minnesota is at the western edge of its range; it's found mostly in counties bordering Wisconsin, in the St. Croix River floodplain. There is a good size population of Cardinal Flower in Dakota County southeast of Hastings, where Hwy 68 crosses the Vermillion River on the way to Prairie Island Casino. There are cultivars in the nursery trade with red leaves; the native has green leaves. Hummingbirds love it. The Lobelia genus was once in its own Lobeliaceae family, then was moved to the Campanulaceae (Bellflower) family but is now back in Lobeliaceae.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in a private garden in Washington County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in a private garden in Anoka County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Peter Dziuk
on: 2009-11-07 12:16:24

L. cardinalis is a riparian species that frequents the silty river basins of eastern MN counties like the St. Croix River. A great place to observe them naturally is on the northside of Cr 68 on the east floodplain of the Vermillion River SE of Hastings, MN in Dakota Co. June and July is when I have observed them.

It is now commonly sold in garden centers (thought they have selected an atypical reddish leaved selection (duh, they're gardeners that can't help themselves)) but all will do well on compacted sandy/silted or well drained loam with neutral to lower pH sites with good moisture. They are shorted lived and will choose their own preferred locations if you are not too rigid with your gardening agenda. Hummingbirds LOVE them!

Posted by: Lisa - Interstate State Park
on: 2011-07-29 11:11:43

I spotted this flower this morning along the river at Interstate State Park. I was amazed at the striking color.

Posted by: Michael - Wabasha, MN
on: 2012-09-04 12:56:12

These flowers are blooming all over the backwaters of the Mississippi (the MN and WI side). First started seeing them this year in the first few days of August. The bright red really pops!

Posted by: Linda - Rosemount
on: 2012-10-04 15:26:12

There are several plants in a well-shaded area of the watergarden behind the public library. The color is a gorgeous red. For the last two years, they have bloomed from mid- to late July, and until early Sept. They are in a very secluded spot in the garden.

Posted by: Cathy - ames
on: 2013-08-24 15:09:26

I saw several of these flowers on the root river bicycle trail. Beautiful vibrant red caught our eye. they were on the east part of the trail, near Preston on the edge of a wooded part of the path.

Posted by: Greg - St. Croix River near William O'Brien State Park
on: 2013-09-17 09:59:57

I spotted one of these brilliant blooms from halfway across the river while I was paddling on Friday, September 13. At first, I actually thought it was something manmade (garbage or something) because it was so brightly-colored. Kind of like a scarlet tanager I saw last May. But I paddled over and sure enough, it was a flower. Gorgeous color for late summer.

Posted by: Sophie - minneaplois
on: 2014-08-07 08:29:36

We have some growing along Minnehaha Creek at 31st Ave & 46th street. Spectacular!

Posted by: Rita - Oakdale
on: 2014-10-01 21:31:24

I planted Cardinal Flowers last year and find they have a hard time standing upright. The stalks lay on the ground and the flowers appear to reach for the stars. Any suggestions to get them to stand upright?

Posted by: Ethan - Ramsey
on: 2015-09-27 13:29:01

Saw some of these in a restored native area in Ramsey MN

Posted by: sowhatsup - Big Elbow Lake, Becker Co
on: 2016-04-19 20:31:13

During the summer of 2014, we did a shore line restoration project where wild/native flowers were planed. Had one of these flower come up and bloomed (we did not plant the flower specifically). It was just so beautiful it stood out between the yellow and purple flowers planed. I hope the flower will spread on it own.

Posted by: Kathryn - Wabasha
on: 2016-08-05 08:37:30

There are many of these beautiful flowers blooming in the backwaters of the Mississippi around Wabasha at this time (August 4, 2016)

Posted by: Janet - Eden prairie
on: 2016-08-05 11:11:31

I have them coming up in my garden right now! August 5th. I wasn't sure what they were until I went on this site. They are strictly volunteers and a big surprise!

Posted by: Linda - Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Eagan
on: 2016-08-18 04:08:06

There were several plants blooming on the edge of the creek on the edge of one of the lakes in the park tonight. Also Great Blue Lobelia close by, though less than last year.

Posted by: Pam - Haugen Township, Aitkin County
on: 2016-08-23 15:53:27

I have 6 to 8 plants outside my window in a small flower garden. They came up all by themselves. Started with 1-2 plants a couple years ago, and have somehow reproduced themselves. The hummingbirds simply adore them! Would love to know where to get more.

Posted by: harris - Ramsey Co., Little Canada.
on: 2016-09-05 18:21:59

9-5-16. You can find them in Little Canada, MN. They are growing on Co. Rd. C a little west of Edgerton St. on the north side.

Posted by: Bill - Marine on St. Croix
on: 2017-08-14 06:23:46

There's a nice patch of them blooming right now along the access road to Somerset Landing across the river from Marine on St. Croix.

Posted by: Sue C - Roseville
on: 2017-09-05 07:41:45

Encountered a large patch of Cardinal flowers in full bloom about 40 feet from the edge of the St. Croix river at Arcola Bluffs trail, south of Marine-on-St. Croix. Among the stems was one pure white (albino) variant.

Posted by: jim s - Grand Rapids, MN
on: 2017-09-05 14:19:24

I found one of these growing on the banks of the Mississippi River in Grand Rapids. Was amazed at its beauty. Only one plant and it was about finished blooming on Sept.2nd. I took a couple seed pods for next year.

Posted by: Susan M - Shoreview
on: 2017-09-16 07:38:04

By chance in 2016 I also spotted the cardinal flowers posted by Harris. I was mesmerized by the brilliant red flower. Not knowing what they were I began searching red flowers. Found them! Fall of 2016 I bought a few from Bachman. Wintered them over with a straw blanket. This summer I had a beautiful display of brilliant red. Exposure is north facing back yard with some east morning sun and a little west depending on sun's movement through the summer. Hummingbirds have found them. So fun to watch. They also are enjoying my red salvia.

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