Thursday, August 27, 2009

Royal Catchfly - Silene regia

Royal catchfly or royal firepink (Silene regia) is extremely rare in Florida and found only in Jackson County near the Georgia border. Despite its rarity here, it is not currently listed in Florida; perhaps because it is more abundant in states just to the north of us and throughout the Mideast and Mid-south.

Royal catchfly is a breath-taking site in full bloom. The rich crimson-red flowers are held on 2-3 foot flower stalks and command attention to themselves. Flowering occurs in late summer to early fall and lasts for several weeks.

Royal catchfly is a hummingbird-pollinated wildflower. Although butterflies and bees sometimes attempt to nectar from it, it is a classic for hummingbirds. The blooms are held at right angles from the main stem, high enough to be easily accessed and uncluttered by the foliage.

For most of the year, this species occurs unobtrusively as a basal rosette of elliptical leaves. It is not especially noticeable at this stage and goes largely unnoticed in a wildflower garden setting at this time. The flower stalks start to appear about 2-3 weeks before blooming.

This is a tough plant to grow in much of Florida. To be successful for more than a single season, it needs to be planted in rather rich forest soil in partly sunny conditions and where it is unlikely to get too dry. If you have such a location, or wish to try it long-term in a large landscape pot, this is a species well worth adding.

Currently, we are still experimenting with this species here at Hawthorn Hill. We have killed a few specimens over the past few years, but are learning from our mistakes. Eventually, we hope to add this to our regular offerings. Until then, you can find royal catchfly offered by a very few Florida nurseries and a number of out-of-state sources. Good luck.

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