Friday, September 22, 2006
Some Essential flowers for fall - 2. Lobelia cardinalis
Difficult to photograph as a single plant, Lobelia cardinalis is a cardinal red, showy flower borne in a tall spike. I have found that in my climate it does best in some shade, or at least sited so that the evergreen basal leaf cluster doesn't experience direct sunlight in early spring, at least until the ground is fully thawed. So this is not the easiest plant for the garden hereabouts, but it is so worth a bit of effort. My longest-lasting plants are in open woods, in a drier spot than I would have expected it to like, but right up against a small rock outcropping.
There are white forms, and it has been hybridized with other hardy perennial Lobelias to cover a range of colours between red and blue. A particularily frustrating hybrid for cold-weather gardens is the purple-leaf "cardinalis", which has the same bright red flowers as this species. A very showy hybrid, it is totally un-hardy colder than USDA zone 7 but usually some local garden center or another will bring some in each summer, seducing gardeners away from the green-leafed hardy species and creating another round of "can't grow that here" urban myth.
As with yesterday's Gentian, I have been having a pest of a time getting seedlings to survive for me the past several years. It's usually been an error of neglect in the watering department.