The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 16, 2002


photo by Kay Fairweather

Cardinal Flower

Name: Lobelia cardinalis, Cardinal flower.

When and where seen: In the Towle woods, in a dried stream bed where it has been flowering since at least the beginning of August. There were still a lot of unopened flower buds on August 10.

Identification: Each plant has a tall slender spike of brilliant red flowers. The color is as intense as the current media scrutiny on the cardinal's office. The flower spike can be up to 6 feet tall. These ones are 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall. Each individual flower is attached to the stalk at the base of a long tube. At the top end of the tube, where it opens, there are three broad petals pointing down and two narrow ones pointing up or sideways. Standing high between the two narrow petals is a blue-tipped rod consisting of the stamens joined around the style.

Life stages: Cardinal flower is a perennial that blooms from July to September. The green part of the plant is a rosette of tightly grouped dark, shiny leaves. In late spring, it sends up a single, central flower stalk which continues to produce new flower buds throughout the summer. The male and female reproductive parts of the flower are produced sequentially. The flowers in the photo are all in the male stage, and appropriately, have a little, white "moustache" of pollen-bearing filaments at the tip of the rod of stamens. In the female stage, the moustache goes and a sticky stigma emerges. Hummingbirds and daytime moths feeding on the nectar transfer pollen on their foreheads from flowers in the male stage to flowers which have progressed to the female stage.

Habitat: Cardinal flowers like damp, rich soil that you might find at the edge of slow-moving streams. These are in a rather shady spot that gets only small amounts of dappled sunlight.

References: A Guide to Enjoying Wildflowers, Donald and Lillian Stokes; New York Botanical Garden's Field Guide to Common Wildflowers of the Northeastern United States, Carol H. Woodward and H. W. Rickett.

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. Please feel free to write up a species that interests you. The only requirements are that it exists in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. If you have a mystery species and want help with identification, send a photo and some field notes to Kay Fairweather at 392 School St, Carlisle MA 01741 or to

Giant moth alert! Ellen Miller reported a Polyphemus moth, clinging to a window, on August 2. "Looked as though it could carry off the cat." These nocturnal moths are members of the giant silkworm moth family. They are uncommonly large with a wingspan of almost five inches and have very distinctive eye-spot markings.

Bondarzewia berkeleyi (Photo by Maya Liteplo)
Massive mushrooms! Three occurrences of Berkeley's Polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi) have been reported this month: Maya Liteplo saw a pair of them on Curve Street, and Paul Hackbarth saw one at the south end of Baldwin Road and another at the south end of Estabrook Road. They typically show up near the base of large oak trees. They have multiple fronds and mature specimens may be up to three feet across.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito