Cardinal Flower Attracts Butterflies and Hummingbirds

Cardinal flower is a great perennial for a butterfly garden with moist soil. Watch hummingbirds flock to this native plant’s sugary blooms.

cardinal flowerDank Pics/Shutterstock
A ruby-throated hummingbird feeds from cardinal flowers

Looking for an interesting native wildflower with striking color that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds? Cardinal flower might be the answer, though it doesn’t work for every location. If you can provide good wet soil and a little afternoon shade, though, the spikes of cardinal flower will reward you with visits from plenty of pollinators.

Eye-catching stalks of vibrant scarlet, white or rose flowers pop in a summer garden from July to September. Deer and rabbits usually avoid the plant. It adds height to edges and thrives in moist, challenging growing conditions like rain gardens, along ponds and in wet meadows.

Cardinal Flowers in the Butterfly GardenJill Staake
Cardinal flower in the butterfly garden

Cardinal Flower

  • Latin name: Lobelia cardinalis
  • Growing zones: 3 to 9
  • Attracts: Butterflies, hummingbirds, bees
  • Light needs: Prefers partial shade but grows in full sun with moist soil
  • Size: Shoots 2 to 4 feet high, spreads up to 2 feet wide.
  • Grown for: Nectar-packed, showy blooms hummingbirds love
  • Foliage: Tall stalks with long, thin, dark-green leaves
  • Cultivars to try: Alba has striking white blooms, while Rose Princess has bronze stems and deep pink petals

Cardinal flower is native to the eastern United States, where it grows it wet woodlands. The flower spikes can reach 4 feet tall. It will re-bloom throughout the summer, especially when spent spikes are trimmed back to encourage new growth. It does need wet soil to thrive, so if you have a soggy spot in the yard, or are looking to plant something along the edge of a backyard pond, this is a great solution. Cardinal flower is a short-lived perennial. It spreads by basal rosettes at the base of the plant, which can be divided every few years, and also by seed.

Cardinal flower’s blue counterpart is great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), and the two are very eye-catching when planted together. If you’re looking to attract hummingbirds, though, red cardinal flower is your best bet.

Check out the top red flowers that attract hummingbirds.

Jill Staake
Jill Staake's lifelong love of nature turned into a career during the years she spent working with native Florida butterflies, caterpillars, and other wildlife at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa, Florida. During this time, she helped to maintain 30+ acres of gardens and backwoods, all carefully cultivated to support the more than 20 species of butterflies displayed indoors and out. She now writes for a variety of publications and sites on topics like gardening and birding, among others.