One of our more stunning native perennial wildflowers and the most commonly used in rain gardens. It likes wet boggy conditions and the scarlet flowers can be seen from over 100 yards away making attractive to people but even more so to hummingbirds.
Cardinal flower has long lance-shaped mid green leaves. In summer it produces a long stem from 1-6 feet in height. The top 8-12 inches is covered in bright scarlet orchid-like blooms arranged amidst smaller leaves. Each flower has three spreading lower petals and two upper petals, all united into a tube at the base, they often bloom in clusters along the stem making it a very showy plant.
This plant likes to have wet conditions during the summer months, but it will grow in a border if watered daily. It cannot tolerate drought conditions. In the wild it is usually found on the edges of streams and lakes. It prefers semi shaded conditions but it will survive in full sun. In such locations it will need protection from winds. It's habits make it an ideal plant for rain gardens, since the soil is usually moist much of the time but is not standing water. Cardinal flower can grow in standing water but it will not survive long. It does not like to be underwater during the winter months. In such locations the roots can quickly rot out. Rain gardens which drain even in winter are ideal. It is easy to grow and once established it will quickly spread using rhizomes.
The seeds are very tiny so it is best to start them indoors and transplant later. Seeds need light to germinate so don't cover them. It blooms the second year from seed. Once established it is a very hardy plant and needs no other care. Hardy zones 3-9.
This plant has shallow roots and can easily be swept away if planted on the banks of flooding streams. If such a location is chosen make sure the roots are protected from erosion.