Monday, May 9, 2011

Fire Pink

Besides having a stunning red flower, Fire Pink (Silene virginica) attracts hummingbirds, and I'm all about that! So I made a number of clumsy attempts to grow it in my garden and always failed, until last year. That's when I decided to get serious about imitating the habitat where I first found it: on a dry, rocky, west-facing hillside in Jefferson County, Missouri.

A glade garden may seem an odd choice in an east-facing, suburban front yard, but that's where I have a slope and the greatest hours of sunlight. I started by removing the Bermuda grass, and some of the dry, clay soil. I replaced it with crushed limestone, and topped that with the rocks. I had to purchase rocks that I could lift, so I looked for ones that could fit together to give the impression of a rock shelf. Then I tamped and pounded till they seemed stable. Once you install an artificial limestone/dolomite ledge, you're pretty well committed, so I really needed a success.

I had a moment of panic when I reread Kurz' description of the typical habitat in Ozark Wildflowers: "wooded slopes in sandstone, chert, or igneous soils." That suggested acid soil, not clay and limestone. As they say though, the plants don't read the books, and the Silene gods smiled on me. My Fire Pink bloomed well last year and returned for an even stronger show this year. Dan Tenaglia's website,, has really great photos of this plant in the wild, and the rocks in his photo look suspiciously like limestone/dolomite.

The stem and calyx of Fire Pink or Catchfly are sticky. John Hilty's website, Illinois Wildflowers (which I talked about in January 2011), says that the purpose of that sticky substance is to discourage ants from "stealing" the nectar. An animal "steals" nectar when it takes nectar without pollinating the flower. Hilty says however that little is known about Fire Pink's pollinators, although is is presumed to be hummingbirds. Even though I've only seen a hummer at the blooms once, I don't have any doubt Silene is a hummingbird plant.


  1. What stunning red flowers, they look like fire in a green surrounding, wonderful!! I hope you'll able to see Hummingbirds in your garden soon! They are amazing birds. I wish you a great weekend!

  2. They aren't as tall as they appear in the photo, but the color in real life is just as you describe it!