H. Perennial & Old Fashioned Garden Plants & Flowers by John Wood
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Lobelia Cardinalis - Hardy Perennial
Author: John Wood
Lobelia Cardinalis Described.
Lobelia Cardinalis - Cardinal Flower; Nat. Ord. Lobeliaceæ.
This is one of the finest herbaceous perennials that bloom in October; stately, brilliant and lasting. There are many varieties of it, and of late years some extra fine sorts have been raised and named, all of which are good. The varieties differ much in the foliage as well as the flowers, some being much larger, and of a dark brown or reddish colour. The illustration is drawn from the typical form, which has smooth foliage; it is not so large as some of the varieties, but it seemed desirable to figure the type, otherwise the varieties might have proved misleading. To a more than ordinary extent this plant is called by its common name, "the Cardinal Flower," and I have very frequently found that it has not been recognised by its proper name, even by amateurs who had long grown it. "Is that tall plant a Lobelia?" has often been asked; therefore, common as the plant is, I thought it might prove useful to give an illustration. One of its valuable qualities is that it flowers for a very long time, beginning about the latter end of August and continuing until stopped by frosts. In the early part of October it is simply grand, as then not only the main stems, but the lower ones, are all furnished with their brilliant colouring.
This "old-fashioned" plant grows 2ft. or 3ft. high; the flowers are produced in terminal spikes on stout, round, and well-foliaged stems; each flower has a slender stalk, starting from the axil of a rudimentary leaf. The calyx is very finely formed, broadly cup-shaped and cornered; the five divisions are narrow, finely pointed, ¾in. long, and spreading; the corolla has a divided tube 1in. long, broadly set in the ample calyx, gradually narrowing to the divisions of the corolla. As may be seen by the engraving, the flowers much resemble some of our native orchids in form, the lip being most characteristic. The leaves are broadly lance-shaped, serrated, and sessile. The habit of the plant is erect, and almost rigid. The flowers are of the most attractive kind for borders, and, as cut bloom, can hardly be excelled.
The only drawback which attaches to it in this climate is that it is not perfectly hardy; in other words, it dies in winter when planted in certain soils and positions. But I can, from an experience extending over three trying winters, confidently state that, if it is planted in spring, in deep rich loam, fully exposed to the sun, it will both flower well and live through the winter. Only let the reader remember that it is a native of North America, and he may then judge that it can be no stranger to a cold climate. The advantages of the above method are, that the plant becomes well established during summer, its long cord-like roots get deep down to the moisture it loves so well, and from full exposure it withers seasonably and the crowns become fully ripened by the time the strongest frosts occur, so that they do it no harm. The reader may take it for what it is worth, that by leaving the dried stalks on, the plants are benefited; at any rate, I leave them on, for the following reasons: In a dry state they are very hollow, and when cut I have found them conductors of rain into the midst of the younger roots and dormant crowns, causing them to rot, and when the remaining part of the stalk has come away from rottenness too, it has been seen that a cavity of corruption had formed where it joined. When I have left the withered stalks untrimmed until the following growing season, no such decay has been seen. So that, after all, it is perhaps not less hardy than many other plants about which little doubt exists, but which may have been a little more fortunate as regards other conditions than cold.
To those who prefer to dig up their stock of L. cardinalis and winter it away from frost, I may say that it is only needful to pack the roots in sand, which should be kept moist, not wet. Propagation may be effected by division of the crowns in spring.
Flowering period, August to first frosts.
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