Native to the North American grasslands, the silene plant is renowned for its colorful early summer blossoms. Most often referred to as the catchfly, the plant typically blooms in shades of pink, magenta, white, and red. The plant's sticky leaves and stems (which are what give this flower its memorable "catchfly" moniker) are actually not strong enough to catch a fly, nor do these flowers attract the pesky insects. They are, however, a favorite amongst hummingbirds and butterflies, so silene makes a perfect addition to either container plantings or pollinator gardens, which will offer a medium green foliage for many months after the plant first blooms.
Though the plant often grows as an annual in both meadow and prairie settings, there are some silene varieties with strong perennial tendencies, so they'll reliably pop up in the same spot each spring. These varieties will self-seed readily. The silene's foliage makes its grand debut in early spring and continues to persist through the late summer, however be aware that some varieties may go completely dormant in the heat of summer.
An ideal plant for any landscape, silene has a natural ability to withstand dry conditions. It does have a preference for the sun, and makes a great addition to rock gardens, curbside planting areas, and other full-sun garden beds. Try planting silene with options like aster, bee balm, cosmos, alyssum, and calendula for a truly stunning colorful flower display that lasts from the first days of summer all the way through fall.
You may find silene plants listed by one of their other common names, which include Campion, Catchfly, Weed Silene, Fire Pink, Maiden's Tears, Rose of Heaven, Wild Pink, and None-So-Pretty.
|Common Name||Campion, Catchfly, Weed Silene, Fire Pink|
|Plant Type||Perennial (sometimes annual)|
|Mature Size||Three-quarters of an inch to 4 feet tall, depending on variety|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade, depending on variety|
|Soil Type||Neutral to acidic, rich in humus|
|Bloom Time||Spring and Summer|
|Flower Color||Red, white, pink, sometimes blue|
|Native Area||North American grasslands|
How to Grow Silene Plants
The great news is that not only are these plants beautiful, but silene is also easy and economical to start from a seed planted in the garden in the springtime (as well as from transplants that were purchased at your local garden center). They're relatively easy to maintain—the requirements for successfully planting silene include good drainage, regular watering, and only occasional feed.
After the flowers begin to bloom in the summer, you'll want to allow the flower stalks to stand upright, as it will encourage the plant to self-seed. However, you should plan to replace the perennial in your landscape every couple of years, as their flower production tends to decrease as they age.
Silene grows best in either full sun or partial shade. If planting in Zones 7 and up, be sure to place your silene plants where they will receive some afternoon shade.
It's absolutely essential to plant silene in fertile, well-drained soil.
These plants will suffer (and ultimately die out) in overly wet conditions, so be sure not to subject silene to an abundance of water. Ensure that the soil is completely dry in between your regular waterings.
Temperature and Humidity
This is a plant species that should be sown at the start of spring for summer flowering, or in autumn for spring flowering, as they will struggle to survive in extreme temperatures (as well as through excessive winter moisture).
You can give your silene plants an added boost by incorporating a granulated starter fertilizer (or an all-purpose feed) to encourage blooming.
Potting and Repotting
You should consider starting the seeds indoors, such as in flats with a high-quality potting soil. Timing is everything—you'll want to plant silene a minimum of eight weeks before the last expected frost, but then allow approximately 15 to 25 days for the seedlings to sprout before either transferring them into your garden or into a larger pot or container.
The propagation for silene can be done with either seeds or cutting. Seeds can be sown outdoors right after they're collected, or you can store, pretreat, and sow them later. Mature plants should be divided in either the late fall or early spring by removing their outer rosettes. Keep in mind that silene is a plant that tends to decline quickly after flowering, so it's usually best to flag the plant.
Some Varieties of Silene
- Silene Latifolia (White Campion)
- Silene Viscaria (Sticky Catchfly)
- Silene Marmorensis (Marble Mountain Catchfly)
Depending on the variety of silene, pruning will require snipping faded blooms individually or waiting until the blooming period is over before removing the entire flower stalk. The pruning process will help keep your silene plant's energy focused on growth as opposed to seed production.
Perennials. University of Maryland Extension.
Silene Caroliniana. North Carolina State Extension.
Hill J, Garton E. Time of Monitoring Influences Detectability and Demographic Estimates of the Threatened Perennial Spalding's Catchfly (Silene spaldingii S. Watson). West N Am Nat. 2017;77(1):63-81. doi:10.3398/064.077.0108