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Fire Pink Silene virginica


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Fire Pink - flower closeup
credit: Arx Fortis/CCSA

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Family: Caryophyllaceae, Carnation view all from this family

Description Bright red, long-stalked flowers bloom in loose clusters at tops of slender, weak, or reclining stems.
Habit: native short-lived perennial herb; erect, hairy stems branched from base; stems, sepals, and upper leaves are sticky; taprooted.
Height: 6-24 in (15-60 cm)
Leaf: at base, dark green, stalked, narrowly lanceolate to spatulate, to 6 in (15 cm) long, to 1 in (25 mm) wide; on stem, opposite, 2-4 pairs, becoming smaller, stalkless, and narrower above.
Flower: bright red to orange-pink, 5-parted, 1-1.5 in (25-40 mm) wide; petals narrow, oblong, notched, with 2 pointed lobes; sepals form a sticky tubular base; in terminal cluster of 7 or more flowerheads.
Fruit: capsule, vase-shaped, becoming tan, 3- or 6-toothed (rarely 4 or 8).

Flower April to September.

Flower May - August

Habitat Open sites: deciduous woodlands, bluffs, moist wooded slopes, rocky slopes, meadows; 650-4200 ft (200-1300 m); also cultivated ornamentally.

Range Eastern and central North America, from Ontario and New York, south to Florida, west to Louisiana and Oklahoma, northeast to Kansas and Minnesota; not reported in New Jersey.

Discussion Also known as indian pink, catchfly, scarlet catchfly. Two varieties are proposed. Threatened or endangered in Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The brilliant flowers attract the ruby-throated hummingbirds, which are one of the primary pollinators for the species.

Like many members of the genus Silene, indian pink has sticky stems, sepals, and upper leaves which trap small insects. Silene spp. with this characteristic are often called catchfly. Another member of this genus with bright red flowers is Royal Catchfly (S. regia), found in Midwestern prairies and dry woods; it has short-stalked flowers, with petals that are only slightly toothed or untoothed, and thicker leaves.

Comments Fire pink grows well on lightly disturbed ground. Because it is a short-lived perennial, it is a good idea to start a few new plants each year.

Exposure Preference Partial sun.

Native Distribution New Jersey to s. Ontario, s. to Florida & Oklahoma

Site Preference Open, moist or dry woods; rocky slopes

Soil Preference Well-drained, rocky soils. pH 5-7.

Wildlife Value This is a hummingbird favorite.