Every year several hours spread across many days are devoted to keeping this native plant alive here. The pure clarity of the brilliantly red colored blossoms is one of the draws. Another is the difficulty this plant has dealing with our weather. We find satisfaction from doing the impossible. To our north this native treasure is abundant in wild places. It also grows freely in areas to our south. Here Alabama Slammers frequently kill off Cardinal Flower plants. Their evergreen tender new growth faces our March temperature swings in excess of sixty degrees on many days. Hard freezes turn the beautiful leaf rosettes to gray mush and the plants are done for. Stored heat in the stone walls many times protects plants placed at their base.
A small white object stands out in sharp contrast to the vivid red petals. Every living thing's primary purpose is the establishment of the next generation. Flowers answer this call by making seed. The Cardinal Flower has a unique method to discharge this function. A suggestively shaped moist pink double headed object destroys the white beard by pushing out of the tube. Proper timing smears yellow pollen across the surface of this structure. It then sends the pollen a considerable distance to the base of the blossom where numerous seeds form.
These plants grew from seed that I planted. Planted is the wrong word in this instance since these seeds germinate only if exposed to light. What I did was sprinkle seeds on the surface of weed free soil. The following summer ten clumps of small plants were moved here to our shade garden near the road. This location was selected since rain water runoff could be diverted from the driveway toward the plants.
When the snow pile plowed from the lane finally melted these plants looked great. Then the air flow from the south changed everything. Sixty degree days were followed by ten degree nights. These plants looked totally dead. Truly unusual weather followed. Hard frosts did not reappear. Given this break the Cardinal Flower plants came back from the dead. We are pleased to see these plants in glorious flower but know that this year's lack of repeated frosts is not likely to be repeated.
These are the last of the sixty plants potted up this spring. Many were given to others to see if various different placements will allow any to survive our weather. These plants were placed near the base of our cone shaped hill formed when glacial melt water poured over the edge of the ice and fell into standing water. The steeply sloped sides of this feature keep low winter sunlight from directly striking the ground here. Snow lingers so these plants may avoid exposure to some of the wildly changeable early spring days. Water is also trapped here by the road to the gravel pit. This extra moisture will likely aid the germination of the seeds while the longer period of cool late winter days will afford protection from temperature extremes.
So our quest to help this native plant survive here continues. Next spring we will look to see if any of the plants given away survive in their new homes. We will probably pot up more plants than we need to insure that Cardinal Flower always grows in our gardens and plants are available to give to others.