Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

A walk in the woods is like that line from the movie Forrest Gump; "Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna' get." Or as John Muir put it; "Wherever we go in the mountains or indeed in any of God's wild fields, we find more than we seek."

I was in search of migrating shorebirds again. I found one. A lesser yellowlegs wading in shallow water at the end of a gravel bar where Utica Creek enters the Susquehanna River in Sayre, PA. I saw it from the bridge. I knew I had to get a closer look; a better photo for confirmation of my identification.

I made my way through a wall of knotweed to the edge of the flowing waters. The last eight feet or so is inhospitable to knotweed due to the seasonal and intermittent flooding of the river. In this water's edge zone there is an abundance of dense plant growth. At present it's a healthy mix; a few exotics but still a nice selection of our native wildflowers. Today the one that caught my eye was the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). For a moment all thoughts of yellowlegs were set aside. After all, hungry birds tend to remain at prime feeding spots, especially when feeding areas are limited due to rising water levels. It could wait.

I crouched down to get a closer look at the cardinal flower plant. To saunter among flowers is different than sauntering among birds. I sense the need to slow down a little more. For me, time must be taken to feel the forces that help to create a habitable space for this wild neighbor. The strong flowing waters that keep competition at bay during flood times now recedes, offering relief for this season of vibrant growth. This hard-packed riverbank dirt must be good for rooting. Cardinal flower's roots which I cannot see serve to support a sturdy stem; the mounting point for fourteen pointy-lobed leaves with toothed edges. Above this energy producing foliage, cardinal flower's crowning glory is arranged in alternate whorled fashion. To be admired are this wild neighbor's twenty-or-so deep-based scarlet flowers, each with five narrow petals projecting out its front and sides like little tongues of flame, and it's central stalk erect like a torch. The shape and size of this central stalk, while difficult for most pollinating insects to navigate, is said to be particularly inviting for hummingbirds. I wondered if I might be fortunate enough to witness a hummingbird visit this particular flower, but it was not to happen today.

When my visit with the cardinal flower was done, the lesser yellowlegs was still there.

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