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Lobelia (cardinalis)

Jan Schultz
Forest Plant Ecologist
USDA FS - Hiawatha National Forest
1030 Wright Street
Marquette, Michigan 49855
906.228.4484 (fax)

Family Scientific Name: Campanulaceae
Family Common Name: Bellflower Family
Scientific Name: Lobelia cardinalis L.
Common Name: Cardinal flower
Species Code: LOCA2
General Distribution: Wet ditches, edges of water bodies. 4-6 feet tall, scarlet spikes.
Propagation Goal: plants
Propagation Method: seed
ProductType: Container (plug)
Time To Grow: 0
Propagule Collection: Seed is collected by hand from locally native plants within the eastern central Upper Peninsula. Flowers from July to September. Seed type is an achene and is collected in October.
Propagule Processing: Dry seeds for 1-2 weeks in open paper bags or open Rubbermaid-style bins, shaking or turning seed heads. Seed is not cleaned. Once seeds have been dried, begin stratification.
Pre-Planting Treatments: Stratification: mix seeds with an equal amount of perlite or vermiculite. Seal mixture into a Ziploc-style bag or a Rubbermaid-style container. 1-2 months of moist cold stratification in a cool dry place. Cold store until planted (up to 3 years)
Growing Area Preparation/
Annual Practices for Perennial Crops:
Propagation Environment: Greenhouse film is made of Standard U.V. 3 HL Clear 6 mil (J.R. Johnson's Greenhouse Supply Inc.) Fans run continuously to circulate the air. Vents open during the summer months for cooling. Container Type: grows best in 24 cell (2" diameter)14"x8.5"x4" deep flats. Does not do well in deep and narrow plug cells. Sowing Media: Scotts Redi-earth Plug and Seedling Mix. Contains vermiculite, and sphagnum peat moss. Soil is sterile.
Thoroughly moisten the soil with water, mixing in the water with a trowel. Cover the holes in the bottom/sides of the plug tray cells with newspaper so that the soil does not fall out. Fill cells with damp soil press soil down with a spoon. Refill the cell plugs with soil to the top, this time not pressing it down. Water the soil in the plug cells again. Sow seeds by hand at a rate of about 3 seeds in each cell. do not cover these seeds with soil, as they need light to germinate. Sow year-round due to low variable success rates.
Establishment Phase: From Jan. until Aug. the greenhouse thermostat is set at 65 degrees F both day and night. Ambient greenhouse temperatures may reach 100 degrees F during the day in the summer. From September to the end of December the greenhouse thermostat is set at 55 degrees F. During this season ambient greenhouse temperatures may reach 75 degrees F during the day. The greenhouse holds plants at all stages of growth so the temperature setting stays the same for all plants at all stages of growth. Soil is kept consistently damp during germination. Water using a fine mist or light hose setting only. Newly planted trays are placed on the south side of the greenhouse. No artificial light is used.
Active Growth Phase: The soil does not need to be kept consistently moist. Move trays to cooler north greenhouse tables. No fertilizers are used.
Hardening Phase: In early-late spring, mature plants can be moved into a cold frame with a cover of material that diffuses sunlight to prevent scorching of the plants. When danger of frost has passed leave plants outside. Water less frequently.
Harvesting, Storage and Shipping: In the Upper Peninsula, flats are transplanted into the field from late May to early October. Flats that are not planted in the summer remain in the greenhouse for another season.
Other Comments: Attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and other wildlife. One of the few primary red-colored flowers. Blossoms stunning. Readily self seeds on moist, open ground. A healthy plant can produce about 5,000 seeds per stem. Small seeds are able to sense the presence of light because they contain a special light sensitive pigment called phytochrome.


Schultz, Jan; Beyer, Patty; Williams, Julie. 2001. Propagation protocol for production of Container (plug) Lobelia cardinalis L. plants USDA FS - Hiawatha National Forest Marquette, Michigan. In: Native Plant Network. URL: http://NativePlantNetwork.org (accessed 2021/09/19). US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, National Center for Reforestation, Nurseries, and Genetic Resources.

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