Hardy, North American perennial
Description: Brilliant scarlet-red flowers in summer to early autumn
Habit: Flower spikes grow to 2-4 feet high from evergreen, 12-inch wide basal clumps of dark, glossy green foliage
Culture: This species prefers moist soil and full sun to part shade
Hardiness: Cold hardy to USDA Zone 3
Origin: North America
Attributes: Rain garden, Deer resistant, Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds
The brilliant scarlet-colored blossom of this North American species was considered the finest red in nature upon its introduction to Europe in 1629. Linnaeus named the genus Lobelia in honor of Matthias de l'Obel, a Flemish botanist who became physician to James I of England. Native Americans once made tea from the roots for the treatment of stomachaches, typhoid, and even social diseases. William Byrd II documented this species in his Natural History of Virginia, c. 1736 and 18th century botanists and nurserymen listed various native Lobelias among their offerings, including John and William Bartram in 1784. Although Cardinal Flower grows in moist woodland areas of Monticello, in 1807 the seed Thomas Jefferson sowed in an oval bed was probably obtained from Bernard McMahon in Philadelphia. The Cardinal Flower's popularity soared in Britain and is still thought to be one of the showiest contributions to the English herbaceous border. Although a short-lived perennial, Cardinal Flower will persist in the garden if allowed to re-seed each year.