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Nature Notebook – Cardinal Flower

While shooting video footage with fellow Sarett Naturalists at Grand Mere State Park, we observed the most spectacular display of cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, any of us had ever seen! 

For hundreds of feet, we walked along the trail, surrounded on both sides by the most vibrant scarlet red wildflower found around southwest Michigan. While this isn’t a rare plant, it is not typically this abundant, even in other prime habitats.

This cardinal flower display is found on a trail the naturalists have been hiking and teaching on for years without so much as seeing more than a few dozen plants at a time. The trail sits next to South Lake, which has consistently flooded over the trail for the last few years. This flooding has killed the trees that are flood-intolerant, which allows light to spill through the canopy onto the wet soil cardinal-flower thrives in.

Not only was the abundance of these flowers impressive, but so was the height of some of the individual plants, with some reaching over our heads (6-7 feet)! Cardinal flower typically stands about 3-4 feet.

The small flower petals are designed for their primary pollinator – the ruby-throated hummingbird.  The red flower looks like a small tube projected above the scarlet petals, which the hummingbirds pollinate by brushing their foreheads against the tube tip to get to the nectar below.