Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Taunting, haunting flaunters! Lobelia cardinalis...


Years ago I spoke of "plants that haunt, that taunt and flaunt": the plant that best exemplifies that quality for me is Lobelia cardinalis

I first encountered cardinal flower in August of 1974 when I started Graduate School at Cornell: I had just moved into my first apartment in Ithaca (the less said about that the better) and one weekend day decided to explore "Cornell Plantations" (now called Cornell Botanic Gardens) -- a sprawling and diverse series of gardens near the campus. Late one afternoon, as I walked through a patch of woodland, as I turned a corner there were a stand of several dozen clumps of a tall, willowy perennial with screaming scarlet flowers glowing in the backlight. I remember standing there in awe: after I'd drunk in their amazing beauty I walked on, and a fellow was walking quickly past me with what looked like a hooded kestrel perched on his wrist. These two strange images will be forever wedded in my brain (even now--nearly a half century later!).

These images are all of various manifestations of Lobelia cardinalis I've grown over the decades a little bog next to the pond in my back yard where I have managed to capture at least a little glimmer of that miraculous first encounter over the last few decades. The first two shots were of hybrid cardinal flowers (the Mexican and Eastern species or subspecies crossed making a very clump. The above and next two shots are of a dark brown leaved selection called Lobelia cardinalis 'Black Truffle' PP25687 which I obtained from North Creek Nursery near Philadelphia: there are a few other dark leaved selections made by other nurseries as well.

The dark foliage of this selection makes a wonderful foil for the brilliant flowers.

This shot is one I particularly relish!

Here is a scene I took ten or more years ago of the hybrid clone that almost recreates my first encounter!

I have planted more at various times over the decades--each year a slightly different look!

Here is my latest effort: this is a selection of the wild form collected originally from plants in the wild in New Mexico: I purchased this as two small plants a few years ago from Agua Fria nursery in Santa Fe. They also sold an albino flowered form of the same species--which I didn't get into the ground in time: perhaps I'll get have it again and one day I can see what a white specimen might look like in this spot.... or maybe not!

The only way I could improve on this display would be to invite a falconer to visit with a hooded kestrel! I did have a sparrow hawk visit my garden once--only on the west side of my house (this is to the east...) But one can dream!


  1. Funny how particular images are embedded in your psyche forever. Not sure Lobelia cardinalis alba would be worth growing as it's those amazing scarlet flowers that make it so spectacular.

  2. That scarlet color is fabulous flaming upt these columns.


Featured Post

A garden near lake Tekapo

The crevice garden of Michael Midgley Just a few years old, this crevice garden was designed and built by Michael Midgley, a delightful ...

Blog Archive