Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fringed campion - Silene catesbaei (syn. S. polypetala)

Fringed campion (Silene catesbaei) is another rare member of the Silene genus in Florida, but unlike the royal catchfly, fringed campion is listed as an endangered species by both the state and federal government. This is because it is a truly rare species everywhere; occurring in only 4 counties naturally in Georgia and 2 in Florida. And, nowhere is it common or well protected.

Fringed campion is a wildflower of the understories of rich, slightly alkaline, deciduous forest soils. Here, it is a classic spring-blooming wildflower - unfurling its pale pink blossoms before the canopy closes over. Flowering lasts for several weeks and then the plants retire to basic obscurity in the forest floor for the rest of the year.

It is the spring blooms that make this wildflower something to behold. Each flower is more than 1 inch across and pale pink. The ends of each petal are fringed; giving it its common name. During the season, each plant will have numerous flowers open at any one time. The flowers are held close to the ground. We are still trying to learn what its major pollinators are.

Fringed campion is a low-growing ground cover. Each plant is anchored by a tap root and creeps outwards about a foot in each direction. The foliage is not easy to detect when the plants are not in bloom, but makes a wonderful ground cover in a deciduous woodland wildflower garden.

We have been experimenting with this wonderful wildflower in our gardens at Hawthorn Hill for about a year. We have a lot left to learn before we can start to propagate it and offer it to more homeowners. If you want to give it a try yourself until then, it is sometimes available from other Florida nurseries.

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