Cardinal Climber (Ipomoea sloteri)

12 Interesting Facts About Cardinal Climber

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The cardinal climber is a fast-growing annual vine that produces vibrant red flowers beloved by hummingbirds. This North American native thrives during hot and humid summer weather, rewarding gardeners with months of lush foliage and prolific blooms.

Though cardinal climber has a tropical look, it is quite resilient and low-maintenance. Once established, these versatile vines can scramble up trellises and fences or spread as an attractive ground cover. Beyond the visual appeal, cardinal climbers also attract pollinators and add wildlife habitat to backyards.

Fast Growth Rate

Cardinal climbers grow vigorously, quickly reaching lengths of 10-15 feet in a single season. Their vining stems readily cling to trellises and other structures, using tendrils to anchor themselves in place. This fast growth allows the vines to cover fences or pergolas with abundant foliage and flowers by mid-summer.

Magnet for Hummingbirds

The red tubular blooms of cardinal climbers act as a magnet for hummingbirds, providing a consistent nectar source. As the vines proliferate flowers from summer through fall, hummingbirds will repeatedly visit to feed. Since the birds play a key role in pollination, planting cardinal climbers brings in these essential garden allies.

Withstands Droughts

Once cardinal climbers become established, they are quite drought resistant. The plants access deeper soil moisture with their spreading root systems. Their lush foliage and blooms will persist even during periods of heat and aridity after the initial establishment phase. This makes cardinal climber ideal for xeriscape gardens.

Attracts Beneficial Insects

In addition to hummingbirds, cardinal climbers attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Their nectar and pollen offer foraging food sources. As the vines flower through the season, they sustain diverse beneficial insect populations and promote pollination of other garden plants.

Cardinal Climber (Ipomoea sloteri)
Cardinal Climber (Ipomoea sloteri) by John Brandauer is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 .

Versatile Landscaping Vine

The vining structure of cardinal climbers makes them very versatile in the landscape. They can readily cover fences, trellises, pergolas, old trees, or shrubs through the summer. Their lush foliage and flowers transform these structures into beautiful vertical gardens. Alternatively, cardinal climbers can be used as dense ground cover.

Lush Green Foliage

Cardinal climber vines produce attractive green foliage that perfectly complements the red tubular blooms. The leaves are deeply lobed with five points, providing an aesthetically pleasing backdrop. As the vines grow, the leaves fill out, creating a blanket of lush green.

Low-Maintenance Growth

Once established in suitable garden soil, cardinal climbers require very little care or maintenance. Other than occasional watering during extreme drought, no supplemental irrigation is needed. The vines are not heavy feeders, so fertilization is generally unnecessary for healthy growth. With proper siting, cardinal climbers practically take care of themselves!

North American Native

Though they have a tropical look, cardinal climbers are actually a North American native species. The original variants emerged from Mexico and Central America. Through cultivation, cardinal climber was further developed as an ornamental garden plant. Despite exotic origins, these vines are well-adapted to our regional climate and soils.

Caution – Poisonous Seeds

While cardinal climbers provide aesthetic appeal in gardens, their seeds contain toxic compounds. If ingested, the seeds can cause poisoning in humans and pets. So gardeners should take care to plant cardinal vines away from areas frequented by children or dogs. Once the flowering period ends, promptly remove spent vines with seed pods.

Heat Lover

Cardinal climbers thrive during hot, humid weather, precisely the conditions of Midwest summers. Heat and moisture prompt lush vegetative growth and abundant flowering. The more heat and sun exposure the vines receive, the more prolifically they will bloom. Just be sure to provide supplemental water during periods of extreme heat or drought.

Beautiful Blooms

The red tubular flowers of cardinal climbers are visually striking, flaring open to reveal a star-shaped interior. The petals reflex back, forming a swept-back pentagon shape. As the vines fill with flowers from mid-summer onward, this gorgeous bloom display is the star attraction of cardinal climbers.

Prolific Flowering

Once the long days of summer arrive, cardinal climbers begin a months-long flowering display that persists up until fall frost. The more heat and light the vines receive, the more flowers they will produce. As long as the roots have moisture, the vines will continue pumping out colourful blooms that attract hummingbirds through the season.


Beyond ornamental appeal, cardinal climbers offer ecological services like pollinator and bird habitat. Once properly established, these North American natives require little maintenance other than occasional watering. With vivid red blooms from mid-summer onward, cardinal climbers bring exotic tropical flair to trellises, fences and garden beds. No wonder hummingbirds can’t resist these prolific flowering vines!

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