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

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

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 developing fruit] Fruit is a small capsule, containing many tiny, oval, semi-translucent golden seeds.

[photo of 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. Hummingbirds love it. It is readily available in the garden trade and can do well in cultivation but may not persist without some amount of disturbance; a bit of light raking usually does the trick.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in a restoration planting in Washington County. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Winona County and in his garden.


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.

Posted by: Jim Radford - Marine on St. Croix
on: 2018-08-28 09:59:22

A few bordering the river at Marine on St. Croix ... striking super-saturated color like no other. May try to plant a few for the Hummers at home.

Posted by: Robert Freeman - Todd County
on: 2018-09-30 21:14:42

Found 100's of plants in flower along Sauk River in the grassy banks. Second week of September declining peak anthesis.

Posted by: Lara J - SE suburb of St Paul
on: 2019-07-28 19:41:30

There are some in the native plantings in the easement behind my house. How do you tell the difference between cardinal flower and goldenrod before they bloom? Thanks.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-07-28 20:06:35

Lara, cardinal flower has angled stems, goldenrods are round.

Posted by: SUSAN S - Lake Elmo
on: 2020-08-23 15:42:53

I planted 3 plants a few weeks ago. I got them at a garden center they were about 15 inches high.In two weeks they have really grown they are so Beautiful and colorful. I just planted 3 more flowers today 8/23/20 the hummingbirds have found them.They look more like a small bush.I JUST LOVE THEM.

Posted by: LeAnn Plinske - Baxter
on: 2020-09-15 16:11:43

Generally found blooming at Northland Arboretum in Brainerd during Aug-Sept, near a wetland area called the Monet Pond.

Posted by: John Hiebert - Lake Elmo Park Reserve - Washington County
on: 2020-09-21 09:27:12

Observed it growing on wetter sites on a prairie that is on the hillside above Eagle Point Lake

Posted by: Elizabeth Reed - Minnetrista
on: 2020-12-17 04:18:49

They grow in wetlands surrounding an inlet to Halsted Bay by my house. Incredibly vibrant red. There are not very many, much more irises and other wetland wild flowers. Anyway to encourage them?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-12-17 06:24:38

Elizabeth, cardinal flower likes disturbance, which is why they are often found in floodplains. In a garden setting, raking the area can encourage them, but can also encourages weeds.

Posted by: Charles H Schmidt - new hope
on: 2021-06-09 18:25:34

scattered some seeds in a swampy area in new hope about 5 years ago and forgot about them. last summer spotted a plant blooming in that swamp. great red color !

Posted by: Al Stevens - Lake City
on: 2021-08-11 01:53:26

Observed many cardinal flower plants in the floodplain of Hok-si-la Park on the edge of Lake City on Lake Pepin (Wabasha County).

Posted by: Julie Christian - Eagan
on: 2021-09-08 08:56:07

Spotted a Cardinal Flower growing in Lebanon Hills Regional Park near Schulze Lake along the Discovery Trail. I was surprised to see it growing there because of how heavily wooded it is, but this particular spot was a little more open.

Posted by: Jerold Ibberson - Mower County, Hormel Nature Center
on: 2021-09-09 08:18:48

I did not realize this was rare in the wild. Documented on inaturalist

Posted by: Warren Christy - Martin Lake, West shore
on: 2021-09-12 10:22:34

I had never seen Cardinal flower and was amazed with it's vivid color. Only one blooming plant. This was a fishing trip that I will always remember. Martin Lake is in North East Anoka County MN.

Posted by: Randy Blase - Minneapolis, MN
on: 2022-08-18 19:21:45

On August 18th, 2022 there are hundreds of these flaming red plants on the delta of a ravine that guts into the St. Croix River at the Carpenter Nature Center. I believe this delta was formed at the end o the last ice age whan a terpoary small lake overtopped a ridge causing the great volume of water to make the temporary waterfall west of the river. The mass of material was then dropped in the river. The delta is now on the east side of former RR right-of-way. Now, under the cottonwood trees it's perfect for cardinal flowers. The plants and location is amazing.

Posted by: Lorraine Nickels - Eden Prairie
on: 2023-08-17 12:54:55

We moved to our wooded lot three years ago and had a stand of these in back. Unfortunately, between pulling up yards of landscape fabric and drier weather, we haven't seen any foe the last two years. To my surprise, five plants unexpectedly popped up in a front garden! Hoping we can figure out how to propogate. Would be a nice transition following bee balm.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-08-17 13:39:05

Lorraine, it's my understanding that cardinal flower does best where there is some soil disturbance. Try raking the area in the spring and fall and see if that increases the population.

Posted by: Julie Amundson - Anoka
on: 2023-09-26 19:37:11

I had quite a few cardinal flowers this summer in my pollinator garden. I purchased small plants last summer at the Anoka area gardeners plant sale. The humming birds loved them. I had another garden with blue and white lobelia with the red cardinal flower.. beautiful show of a patriotic garden. I collected seeds and plan to winter sow them.

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