Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Cardinal-flower,
Montezuma Audubon Center, Savannah, NY

Cardinal-flower -- © Dave Spier

This native perennial grows wild along streambanks and in swamps and other wet places up and down the eastern half of the U.S., northeast into Canada and south to Columbia. Look for it at the Montezuma Audubon Center (Rt. 89 N, Savannah, NY) where it grows along Crusoe Creek and also around the building where it has been planted to attract hummingbirds. The plant can reach two or three feet in height, making it a nice addition to any garden.

The Cardinal-flower (Lobelia cardinalis) gets its name from the bright-red blossoms hugging the upper stem. (Although sometimes called a spike, it is technically a raceme because of short flower stalks called pedicels.) Look closely at an individual corolla [flower] and you’ll notice three wide lobes forming a lower lip while two narrow lobes extend to the sides like arms. The male and female parts, also scarlet colored, form a narrow tube emerging like a crane above the petals. It looks custom-made to work with hummingbirds!

There was a hummingbird at these Cardinal-flowers when Donna and I first stopped on the boardwalk at Tinker Nature Park (Hansen Nature Center) in Henrietta, NY.

Cardinal-flower leaves are lance-shaped, long-pointed and serrated or toothed on the edges and they alternate on a single, main stalk. The plant contains alkaloids and should be considered toxic, as are other members of the genus Lobelia. In spite of this, Native Americans used root and leaf teas for various ailments. Cardinal-flower and its relative, the blue-violet Great Lobelia (another moist-ground species growing at the MAC) belong to the Lobelia subfamily of the Bluebell family.

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