The cardinal flower's vivid scarlet can be found on riverbanks and in marshy areas along ditches in August and into September. The plants shown here were growing on a roadside in southern LaPorte County Indiana where a ditch preserves a small remnant of some of the original flora of the Grand Marsh of the Kankakee. Nearby in the Kankakee State Fish and Wildlife Area, cardinal flowers grow underneath silver maples, or mixed with invasive colonies of purple loosestrife. In any case, you'll find cardinal flower in rich, moist soil.
Like some other pure red flowers, the cardinal flower is known as a good hummingbird attractor. Some say hummingbirds are required for pollination.
That vivid red doesn't just attract hummingbirds; it attract gardeners too. Cardinal flowers adapt well to cultivation and will put a great show as long as they have enough moisture and rich soil. But please don't attempt to collect them from the wild. Cardinal flower is readily available at commercial nurseries. Though it's a short-lived perennial, it produces copious quantities of tiny seeds and can create a self-perpetuating colony in an appropriate location.