Cardinal Flower Is for Hummingbirds

Cardinal flower
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Photo: C. Carignan

I gave up on my hummingbird feeder years ago. It was more than I wanted to do to keep up with changing the sugar solution every two to three days, as recommended to keep the food free of spoilage that could be harmful to the birds. I saw that hummingbirds would visit some of my garden flowers just as much as the feeder, so I decided just to provide flowers for them. More flowers for me, more natural nectar for them. A win-win.

In my garden, ruby-throated hummingbirds most often fed at my scarlet bee balm, blue salvias, brilliantly colored zinnias, and orange butterfly weed. This year they have an additional choice that appears to be their new favorite. It is the flower whose color resembles that of a different bird, cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).

This Maryland native plant produces 2-4′ tall spikes of bright, cardinal-red flowers that are irresistible to hummingbirds in mid to late summer. In fact, hummingbirds are an essential pollinator of these plants.

Cardinal flower was easy for me to grow from seeds sown directly outside. In the fall of 2016, I scattered seeds in a low area of my yard where water frequently would puddle after heavy rain. They sprouted and grew low foliage and a few small flower spikes the following season. This year I have plants that are well established and the flower spikes are tall and brilliant. Cardinal flower grows best in moist to wet soils, so this has been a fabulous year for it!

If you have a shady or partially shaded area that tends to stay moist in your yard, cardinal flower might be a great choice for you. Allow these plants to reseed naturally so you’ll have flowers — and a natural hummingbird feeding station — year after year.

Additional Resources

By Christa K. Carignan, Coordinator, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center

3 thoughts on “Cardinal Flower Is for Hummingbirds

  1. tonytomeo August 10, 2018 / 10:34 am

    That was one of the more obscure cut flower crops in 1986. I suppose it fit the style at the time. I do not know what the variety we grew was. It had dark foliage and almost purplish burgundy flowers. I have not seen it since then.

  2. Carol Kagan August 11, 2018 / 3:44 pm

    I, too, gave up on feeders. My neighbors have a hummingbird resort and they pretty much hang out there. They come to my yard frequently to feed on Monarda (bee balm), Asclepis tuberosa (butterfly flower/weed), Salvia elegans (pineapple sage) and zinnias. I have also spotted them feeding on my tithonia (Mexican sunflower).

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