Fire Engine Red: You Can Grow It


Submitted a year ago
Created by
Henry Homeyer

Years ago floating down the Connecticut River in a canoe I spied a dash of bright red from a quarter mile away. This was not flotsam or jetsam, this was a plant, so I paddled across the river and found the plant, a native wildflower: cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Now I grow it.

Cardinal flower is tall and lovely. This one is 5 feet tall.

Sold at most garden centers, cardinal flower now comes in a variety of hybrid colors including peach, pink and others. I’ve tried those, and all have died out after the first winter. But the pure red native plant is a winner, and tough. It’s as bright red as a firetruck (though not so noisy).

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Cardinal flower loves moist soil, and can grow in full sun or part shade. I have seen it growing in ordinary garden locations, but I wouldn’t try it in full sun with dry, sandy soils. Maybe morning sun in drier locations would be better.

Close-up of cardinal flower with dew drops

It is a tall plant that is blooming in my garden right now. It can reach 5 feet, but more often is 3 or 4 feet tall. I do not stake mine, and it does not flop. 

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