The evolution of floral display is thought to be constrained by trade-offs between the size and number of flowers; however, empirical evidence for the trade-off is inconsistent. We examined evidence for trade-offs and hierarchical allocation of resources within and between two populations each of the monocarpic perennials, Cardiocrinum cordatum and C. giganteum. Within all populations, flower size–number trade-offs were evident after accounting for variation in plant size. In addition, variation in flower size explained much variation in flower-level allocation to attraction, and female and male function, a pattern consistent with hierarchical allocation. However, between population differences in flower size (C. cordatum) and number (C. giganteum) were not consistent with size–number trade-offs or hierarchical allocation. The population-level difference in C. cordatum likely reflects the combined influence of a time lag between initiation and maturation of flowers, and higher light levels in one population. Thus, our study highlights one mechanism that may account for the apparent independence of flower size and number in many studies. A prediction of sex allocation theory was also supported. In C. giganteum: plants from one population invested more mass in pistils and less in stamens than did plants from the other population. Detection of floral trade-offs in Cardiocrinum may be facilitated by monocarpic reproduction, production of a single inflorescence and ease of measuring plant size.