Pinks, Pinked and Pink! ( Botany circular 26 )


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Pinks, Pinked and Pink! ( Botany circular 26 )
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Coile, Nancy C

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University of Florida
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Botany Circular No. 26 Fla. Dept. Agric. & Consumer Serv.
September/October 1992 Division of Plant Industry


Nancy C. Coile'

Fringed Campion is a beautiful wildflower which has been given endangered status on the Federal List of
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants (3). Silene polypetala (Walter) Fernald & Schubert is included by Clewell
(1) in his manual of Panhandle flora and by Small [as S. baldwinii Nuttall] in his manual of southeastern flora (7). Silene
polypetala is also on the Endangered Plant List of the Regulated Plant Index Rule 5B-40 (4) of the Florida Department
of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), formerly Florida Statutes Chapter 581.185-87 (5). The Division of Plant
Industry is charged therein to regulate and preserve the endangered, threatened, and/or commercially exploited plant species
named in the Regulated Plant Index.

As a member of the Caryophyllaceae,
Silence polypetala shares several features with other
members of the Pink or Carnation Family. These
include opposite leaves connected at the base by a
thin tissue, swollen nodes, and numerous seeds
attached around a central shaft (axis) of the fruit.
The genus Silene comprises about 500 species, all of
which occur in the Northern Hemisphere. In
Florida, you may see the two escaped European
species, S. gallica L., and S. antirrhina L. Silene
antirrhina is commonly called Sleepy Catchfly
because of the sticky tissue below the flowers which
entangles tiny insects. Elsewhere in the South is
found the common Silene virginica L. whose showy,
notched, crimson flowers elicit its common name of
Fire Pink.

Fig. 1. Habitat of Silene polypetala. (Photo courtesy of
Samuel B. Jones, Jr.)

Petals of most Pinks are "pinked," meaning they are cleft or split at the tips as though pinking shears had notched
them. In order to see this characteristic, I suggest that you examine with a hand lens the tiny white flowers of Chickweed
(Stellaria media (L.) Villars), a common member of the Caryophyllaceae which grows as a weed in many lawns; or, if
you have access to Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus L.) or Fire Pink, substitute those flowers. Notice that each of the
five petals of Chickweed (and the others) is cleft almost to the base. Fringed Campion takes "pinked" a step further by
also having fimbriate (lacy) petals. This fimbriate trait gives the species its common name, Fringed Campion.
Unfortunately, "Campion" is usually a common name for species of Lychnis, another genus in the Pink Family. Possibly
a better common name for Silene polypetala is Fringed Pink. Because this species is not common, a common name
apparently did not appear in print until Duncan and Foote (2) used Fringed Campion as a common name in their popular
wildflower book.

'Botanist, Office of Systematic Botany, PO Box 147100, Gainesville, FL 32614-7100

DISTRIBUTION: There are two geographic distributions for Silene polypetala: the northern populations are found on
Piedmont soils of four counties along the fall line near the Coastal Plain in Georgia; the southern populations are located
in Decatur County, Georgia along the Flint and Apalachicola Rivers and in Florida's Gadsden and Jackson Counties on
both the east and west sides of the Apalachicola River (3). The plants occur on well-drained soils in hardwood forests,
often in steep ravines. In Florida, the Fringed Campion can occur in the same ravines as Torreya taxifolia Arnott, the
endangered Florida Torreya. This habitat is characterized by a canopy of Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora L.),
Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera L.) Maple (Acer rubrum L.), Beech (Fagus grandifolia L.), Spruce Pine (Pinus
glabra Walter), and Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata Willd.) (3).
You may wish to look for additional localities for this rare species to add to the information which is on file with
the Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Isolated populations may have been overlooked.
Dr. Robert Kral (6) emphasizes that Silene polypetala is a species which is dependent on the conditions provided
by a deciduous overstory. Only under mixed, deciduous, old forest can the Fringed Campion thrive. Kral suggests that
this species is one of those plants which is light-dependent during its period of flowering and shade-dependent during
periods of fruiting and dormancy. The blooming period from late March through April underscores the deciduous woods
connection, since blooms occur before the trees of the deciduous forest have their full complement of leaves.

DESCRIPTION: The plants may reach a height of 40 cm (16 inches) from a basal rosette. Each plant may have several
flowering shoots. Leaves are pale green, soft, opposite, with entire margins, and up to 9 cm (4 inches) long. The leaves
of the basal rosette and the lower stem are obovate or spathulate with winged petioles, but further up the stem the leaves
become smaller, more elliptic and have rounded to clasping bases. The pink or rarely white petalled flowers are arranged
in a terminal cyme of 3 to 5 flowers, sometimes with another cyme on a lower node. The calyx is tubular, about 2 cm
long, 5-lobed and covered with soft hairs. The narrow base (claw) of each of the petals extends to the top of the calyx
tube and then the expanded triangular tip of each petal (about 2.5 to 3 cm long) is displayed. There are 10 short stamens
which are not much longer than the petal claws. The pistil is slender with 3-5 styles and a superior ovary. The fruit is
a capsule about 7 to 9 mm long.

HORTICULTURAL TIPS: Fringed Campion easily reproduces vegetatively with both offshoots and stolon-like rhizomes
producing rosettes which can become new plants. However, the species does not seem to reproduce quite so easily by
I have observed a gorgeous large bed of Silene polypetala in full bloom growing in cultivation, but have been told
that Silene polypetala does not stay "thrifty." Rather, the plants tend to disappear unless fallen leaves (or other mulch)
are removed in the early spring. Perhaps this persistence problem and the few propagules obtained by seed are why Silene
polypetala has become rare. This herbaceous perennial wildflower is certainly one of the most beautiful of the rare plant
species. The task of removing litter from the plants in the early springtime should be a simple chore and the flowers are
worth the effort.
Pattern after famous Kew Gardens in England and Callaway Gardens in Georgia and grow this wildflower in your
personal garden, provided you have a deciduous woods habitat and are in North or Central Florida. Plants obtained by
tissue culture and by cuttings are available in the nursery trade. With just a bit of care, planted in well-drained but moist
soils with high humus content and situated under deciduous trees, Silene polypetala should become a focal point in the
native plant garden.
Now you know why the title: Pinks (members of the Pink Family); pinked (the cleft petals); and pink (for color
of the petals).

1. Clewell, A. F. 1985. Caryophyllaceae, p. 264-268. Guide to the Vascular Plants of the Florida Panhandle. University Presses of
Florida: Florida State University Press, Tallahassee.
2. Duncan, W. H. and L. E. Foote. 1975. Caryophyllacaeae, p. 34-37. Wildflowers of the southeastern United States. University
of Georgia Press, Athens.
3. Federal Register. 1991. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Endangered Status for the Plant Silene polypetala
(Fringed campion). Final Rule. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. January 18, 1991. Vol. 56(13):1932-1936.
4. Florida Administrative Code. 1991. Rules, Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry.
Chapter 5B-40. Preservation of Native Flora of Florida. 3 December 1991.
5. Florida Statutes. 1978. Chapter 581.185-187. Preservation of native flora of Florida.
6. Kral, R. 1983. Paper 126, Silene polypetala, p. 385-388. A report on Some Rare, Threatened, or Endangered Forest-related
Vascular Plants of the South. Vol. I. Technical Publication R8-TP 2, USDA Forest Service, Southern Region.
7. Small, J. K. 1933. Caryophyllaceae, p. 504-508. Manual of the Southeastern Flora. Chapel Hill, N.C.