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Also known as scarlet catchfly, this dainty, deep-red perennial wildflower with slender stems and narrow, green leaves energizes borders, meadows, and woodland openings for six full weeks. It’s a superb native for front-of-the-border, brilliant-red color due to its low, mounding shape and nice manners. Beginning in early April, the vivid petals and tubular nectar structure attract hummingbirds, large butterflies, and long-tongued bees. The loose clusters of long-stalked flowers perform best in full to part sun with some afternoon shade. Dappled light is also appropriate, but the plant will struggle in full shade. While not suitable for moist areas, fire pink grows well on lightly disturbed ground and in sandy or gravelly soils, clay, or light loams with dry to medium moisture. It’s drought tolerant once established, making it a fuss-free flower that’s suitable for rock gardens and drier areas.

 

Fire pink’s native range extends from eastern to central North America. It’s found throughout Ohio in small, scattered populations that tend to decline when the tree canopy becomes too dense. The common name refers to its fiery color and membership in the pink family (Caryophyllaceae), and the specific epithet means “of Virginia.” Plants in the Silene genus often have downy and sticky hairs on their stems to trap insects. Some experts think this evolutionary feature helps to stop ants from reaching the flowers’ nectar. Royal catchfly, which also has bright red flowers, is found in midwestern prairies and dry woods. It has thicker leaves, only slightly toothed petals, and short flower stalks. Fringed pink has pale pink flowers and is more heat tolerant.

 

Fire pink is a short-lived plant and doesn’t self-seed vigorously, so it’s a good idea to start a few new plants each year. Do this by dividing mature plants (remove the outer basal rosettes) in late fall or early spring. To grow from seeds, remove the brown pods and store them in a bag for about a week, then shake the pods to remove the seeds. Press them directly into the soil in fall or save them in the refrigerator until ready to sow in December. Fire pink typically produces flowers the second year after germination. It has no serious insect or disease problems, but deer and possibly rabbits browse the foliage.

 

Native habitats include open woods that are dry or moist, rocky wooded slopes, and meadows. Suitable for meadows, open woodland areas, naturalized areas, border fronts, and rock gardens. Good companion plants include columbine, spotted bee balm, aromatic aster, and butterfly weed.

 

Plant Characteristics:

Prefers full sun to part or dappled shade.

 

Grows 1-2’ tall.

 

Grows best in average or acidic, dry to medium, well-drained soils, including sandy, shallow rocky, and clay. Drought tolerant once established.

 

Blooms April-June with cymes of 3-10, one-inch flowers consisting of 5 deeply notched petals spreading out from the base of a nectar tube formed from red sepals. The calyx is tubular, sticky, and green. There are 10 stamens and 3 styles.

 

Lance-shaped leaves are about 6” long with smooth margins. Upper leaves are smaller and occur in 2-4 sets of opposite pairs. They start out with fine hairs and become hairless with age. Somewhat-weak stems branch at the bottom and top.

 

Root system is a tap root with dense, fibrous roots.

 

Wildlife Value:

The nectar attracts hummingbirds, solitary and bumble bees, and butterflies, including several swallowtail species. Six species of Lepidoptera larvae use plants in the Silene genus as their host plants, including the hitched arches moth picture here with its caterpillar, and four specialist moths: Lacinipolia renigera, Hadena ectypa, Hadena capsularis, and Coleophora apicialbella Braun. The seeds feed juncos, pine siskins, sparrows, and other bird species.

 

Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

There are no reported medicinal or folklore uses of this plant.

 

 

Fire Pink, Silene virginica

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