Monday, August 23, 2010
Lobelia cardinalis is described as a short lived perennial. We have nearly lost it more than once. How a plant that freely seeds, forms daughter plants and layers can be so hard to keep alive is a puzzle. The seeds must be tasty to some critter since the new seedlings are few in number compared to the millions of seeds we allow to drop. Each spring the rosette of daughter plants heave and freeze after frosty nights turn their bright green new leaves into grey mush. This year we have Cardinal flower in eight different places in the garden. Some have actually been pulled as weeds. Winter's lasting snow cover helped save many plants ,but that condition is uncertain.
These four Cardinal flowers were placed in 4" X 4" X 5" pots very early this spring. The rosettes of daughter plants were separated just as soon as the soil could be worked. Basement protection was given to these plants when cold freezing nights threatened. All of these potted plants grew well after being planted out when the weather stabilized. Similar plants set immediately in the garden did not all survive. Freezing and heaving killed many of those transplants.
A coarse mulch of tall phlox stems applied after the ground was frozen protected several other plants. Mulch for Cardinal flowers is tricky. If the mulch is too fine or applied early rot is the result. I did not expect much from the open airy stem mulch but it worked well.
The structure of each flower is as unusual as the color is bright. Three downward pointing lobes and two erect lobes are joined by a fused stamen that is tipped in white. Humming birds own these flowers here. More correctly, one humming bird owns these flowers. Aerial combat follows the approach of a second bird. Occasionally flying below the wall allows the second hummer to feed on the nectar unnoticed by bird one. For us the combination of the color of the flowers and the antics of the birds, keep us on the bench for considerable stretches of time. There is much to recommend this short lived perennial.