If you want hummingbirds in your garden, plant this flower immediately. Cardinal Flower sends up a tall, straight stalk which it then covers in tiny red flowers filled with nectar. Cardinal Flowers like sun to part sun and need consistent water to thrive. Plant Cardinal Flowers in groups of five (ideally) and watch hummingbirds zip around all summer. Scroll below for planting tips.
Full sun – part sun
Cardinal Flower's shape is made for hummingbird beaks
Explore the history, types, and where to plant native Cardinal Flower
Table of Contents
Three reasons why Cardinal Flowers are perfect for hummingbirds
These flowers have evolved to be an ideal hummingbird nectar food source. Here’s three reasons why:
1. Cardinal Flowers are tall—2-3 feet—perfect for hummingbird access
The height of the plant makes it perfect for hummingbird snacking. The 2-3 foot height of cardinal flowers put them high enough for a hummingbird to easily fly around and access the red flowers from all sides. As you can see from the video above, cardinal flowers are made to be hummingbird buffets.
2. The Cardinal Flower shape is basically a hummingbird cup
Just looking at a Cardinal Flower shows how perfect it is for hummingbirds—its flowers are shaped to be hummingbird cups. The individual flowers on the Cardinal Flower stalk tip slightly up to contain the nectar within, while the shape of the flowers is perfect for a hummingbird beak.
3. Red is a favorite color of hummingbirds
Have you ever noticed that plastic hummingbird feeders are often red? This is because hummingbird eyesight is attuned to seeing red, yellow, orange, and pink colors. The reason may be that these colored flowers have the sweetest nectar.
According to the Brandywine Conservancy, “Some reports indicate that blossoms in these colors are higher in sucrose—a form of sugar that hummingbirds can fully metabolize.” Love knowing that hummingbirds are looking for the sweetest flowers ❤️
Butterflies love Cardinal Flower, too
Cardinal flower nectar is also a sweet treat for butterflies. Butterflies and hummingbirds are both after the flower nectar held within a cardinal flower petal cup.
Where to plant Cardinal Flowers
Cardinal Flowers thrive in full sun to part sun. Their native habitat includes meadows, or the banks of streams or waterways. Which is why…
Cardinal Flowers need consistent water
Consistent moisture is needed for Cardinal Flowers to flourish; if the soil dries out the plant may die. Their native habitats are along stream edges or wet meadows. Cardinal Flowers are most happy in moist garden locations, like an area in your garden near a gutter downspout or an area where water tends to collect after the rain. Rain gardens are great places, too!
Where is Cardinal Flower native?
Cardinal Flower is native to almost all of the United States and half of Canada. Plant away, native plant lovers!
How to grow cardinal flower
Plant Cardinal Flowers seeds in the fall
According to Everwilde, “Direct sow Cardinal Flower seeds in late fall, planting on the surface of the soil since these seeds need light to germinate.” In the spring, the seedlings will emerge. Keep them watered regularly during their first year to get them established.
Plant Cardinal Flowers seeds in the spring
Cardinal Flower seeds need to be cold for 30-60 days before they wake up and start to grow. (This type of cold nap before seeds wake up is called “dry stratification.”) This cold napping period mimics what these seeds experience in the winter, out in the wild.
If you get seeds from a Cardinal Flower in the fall or winter, you can mimic the wild indoors! Here’s how (steps from Prairie Nursery):
- Store seeds in Ziploc bags in a refrigerator, or in a rodent-proof container in an unheated building (like a garage) over winter for 30-120 days
- Most prairie grasses and wildflowers—like Cardinal Flower—require only 30 to 60 days of dry stratification to break seed dormancy
After they’ve had their cold nap, it’s time to plant the seeds.
To start indoors:
- Sow the seed 6-8 weeks before the last frost of spring
- Keep the soil lightly moist until germination (water in a spray bottle works well)
- Transplant the seedlings as soon as there is no chance of frost
- Water daily on dry days for the first month to get them established
Grow Cardinal Flower from plants
There are many ways to find Cardinal Flower plants for your garden. Here are three reliable ways to find some:
Buy from a local plant nursery
Your local nursery will have cardinal flowers plants to buy, especially at the end of spring / early summer. Whenever possible, buy native plants from local nurseries. To date, Home Depot and Lowes have never carried this plant.
Find a local plant swap
Cardinal flowers are easy to dig up and give away. Search local gardening groups on Facebook to find local gardeners who often give away plants during the spring and fall.
Visit local plant sales in the spring
Almost all local plant organizations and gardens host plant sales in the spring. These plant sales often include plants that are not available at conventional nurseries. Check your local garden websites for dates.
Added bonus: Cardinal Flower is deer-proof
Deer do NOT eat Cardinal Flower! If you’re worried about deer nibbling your garden, Cardinal Flowers are a perfect native plant.
Cardinal Flower vs. Great Blue Lobelia
Cardinal Flowers are related to another pollinator favorite: Great Blue Lobelia. Both are in the Lobelia genus and make tall stalks and cover them with flowers.
As you can see, their color difference is clear (Cardinal Flower is red, GBL is blue-purple) and their flower shapes are different.
What to plant with Cardinal Flower
There are so many other hummingbird and butterfly-friendly plants that look great with Cardinal Flowers and like the same water-heavy area. Here are some inspiring plants to pair in your garden:
Shrubs and trees to pair with Cardinal Flower
Flowers to pair with Cardinal Flower
Looking to make a rain-friendly pollinator garden? These are perfect native flower pairings for Cardinal Flower:
Cardinal Flower is a beautiful and easy-to-grow plant that’s perfect for any garden. By following the simple care tips we’ve shared, you can enjoy its bright red blooms for years to come. To get more ideas on native plant gardening, explore our native plant library or keep exploring our thematic guides below. Happy planting!
- Harris, Marjorie. Botanica North America: The Illustrated Guide to Our Native Plants, Their Botany, History, and the Way They Have Shaped Our World. (2003), 89-90.
- Johnson, Lorraine. 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for American Gardens in Temperate Zones. (1999), 40.
- Johnson, Lorraine and Colla, Sheila. A Northern’s Guide to Native Plants and Pollinators. (2023), 120.
- Nelson, Gil. Best Native Plants for Southern Gardens: A Handbook for Gardeners, Homeowners, and Professionals. (2010).
- USDA Plants Database, Cardinal Flower.