Thursday, March 9, 2017
Cardinal Flower Rescue
If there is a flower, either wild or created, that shines with a brighter purer red, I have yet to see it. Cardinal Flower is a native plant in North America and may well have been the first New World plant sent back to Europe in the 1600's. In its natural habitat it grows near water. It is a temperamental garden subject but is well worth the effort to keep it alive. The following picture shows the mid August appearance of this plant in our garden.
Many describe Cardinal Flower as a perennial plant. Strictly speaking that description is incorrect since no part of the plant that flowered returns the following year. As the old plant is rotting away, a cluster of six daughter plants begin new growth around the old stalk. In the second year of growth things are getting quite crowded. In the third year as many as thirty-six plants try to grow in very close quarters. My opinion is that these plants need to be separated if they are to survive. Fall division is seldom successful.
The tangle of white roots produced by each new plant over the winter is nothing short of amazing. Trying to separate this tightly woven fabric without damaging each plant crown requires the gentle application of considerable wiggling force.
Cardinal Flower produces a huge number of seeds each summer. Since garden soil is much drier than soil at water's edge, few seeds germinate in the garden. I cannot be certain of the appearance of plants from seed since no published picture of them has ever been found. One cluster dug for division today had several small plants growing at its edge. Their leaf form is different from the daughter plants but the white root mass is the same. These plants were the first potted. Their location in the garden will be known and they will be watched to see what grows. I may have potted up a pernicious weed but that chance is publicly taken.
Newly purchased pots now hold perhaps thirty young plants. Some of the plants that grew under the snow were not singly separated. Planting two or three together seemed better than inflicting possibly fatal damage pulling them apart. For the next two months these trays will spend favorable days outside. When cold threatens they will be moved into the basement.
Severe cold is in the forecast for the coming two nights. How a plant that spends the winter growing under the snow can be turned to mush by snow-less cold is a mystery. Tomorrow will be spent covering the plants remaining in the garden with a loose mulch of dead iris leaves. How that can protect from near zero temperatures remains to be seen. Whatever the fate of the plants left outside, nearly two dozen protected plants will keep Cardinal Flower alive here for yet another year.