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FutureStarrHow to Propagate Cardinal Flowerer
In the early fall, as you approach the edge of a woodland stream or the banks of a secluded pond, you may glimpse a flash of red. This spark of scarlet is from what may be the most brilliant of our native blossoms, the cardinal flower. John Burroughs, the 19th-century naturalist, wrote, "But when vivid color is wanted, what can surpass or equal our cardinal flower? There is a glow about this flower as if color emanated from it as from a live coal."
The cardinal flower's natural range is New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario southward to Florida and Texas and across the southern plains and mountain states to California. It is a member of the Campanulaceae or bellflower family. The plant produces unbranched slender spikes called racemes that are covered with scarlet flowers (technically called florets) from July to October in moist areas along streams, drainage ditches, wet meadows, swamps, and other low places. It grows from basal rosettes, or low-growing clumps, and has 4- to 6-inch lance-shaped leaves that alternate up the 2- to 5-foot-tall stems. The deep green leaves and rosettes often have a bronzy or reddish tint, especially on young growthCardinal flowers grow best in moist, rich, light, slightly acid soil, but can survive in other habitats as long as they are kept moist. They need some protection from midday or afternoon sun, and thus tend to do well at a wood's edge or at the base of a tree. Place them in a low spot in the yard or border to help keep them moist, and plant them with ferns, hostas, rudbeckias, and asters. Cardinals can also be grown in containers that are set in a tray of water on a patio or deck to bring the beauty of the flowers—and the hummingbirds—up close for enjoyment.
The basal leaves should not be covered in winter. In natural habitats, cardinal flowers are often restricted to open wet areas or edges where water or wind can keep the plants clear of smothering leaf litter through the fall and winter. If the plants are covered with heavy mulch, they will rot, especially in the South. If you regularly mulch your perennial beds to prevent heaving and root damage, use light straw or mulch that can be tucked under the leaves.You can propagate the cardinal flower from seeds, divisions, and stem cuttings. Seeds usually ripen in the fall about seven weeks after forming. Harvest the brown seed capsules from the lower portions of the flowering stalk even when the flowers are still in bloom or bud farther up the stalk. Watch carefully for the capsules to begin cracking open at their tips; if you wait too long, the minute brown seeds will be scattered as the tall stalk blows in the wind. Each capsule contains numerous minute seeds, so one or two capsules should be plenty. Leave the rest to reseed the area; Lobelia are perennials but are often short-lived, so natural reseeding is important to keep the population healthy and abundant. (Source: www.bbg.org)