Red campion (Silene dioica)

A plant which can grow to around 1m tall, red campion fills woodlands and roadside verges with a warming dash of pink colour during the spring and summer.

Common name: red campion

Scientific name: Silene dioica
Family: Caryophyllaceae

What does red campion look like?

Habit: attractive medium to tall perennial plant with a downy stem.

Leaves: opposite pairs, with hairs on the leaf.

Flowers: pink-red in colour with five petals that are fused at their base forming a tube that is surrounded by a purple-brown calyx. Red campion is dioecious, a botanical term, meaning the male and female flowers grow on separate plants, hence the species name dioica.

Not to be confused with:

White campion (Silene latifolia): when only the leaves are visible this species could be confused with red campion, but once in flower the colour of the petals clearly indicates the species.
Corncockle (Agrostemma githago): like red campion, corncockle has pink flowers but the petals are different in shape and more rounded in this species when compared with red campion.

Where and when to find red campion

Where: native. Look for this species in lightly shaded areas in woodland, along hedgerows, fields, ditches and roadside verges. This species is an ancient woodland indicator, so may give a clue to the history of a wood.

When: a perennial or biennial, it flowers from May to September.

Value to wildlife

The flowers of red campion are important for various pollinating insects including bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

Uses and folklore

Medicinal: traditional medicines used red campion seeds to treat snakebites.

Folklore and art: a noticeable flower the red campion has been mentioned in various poems, for example ‘Summer Woods’ by the poet Mary Howitt.

Red campion’s genus name Silene probably derives from the Greek word sialon, which means saliva in reference to the gummy exudate occurring on the stems. It may also derive from Silenus, teacher, faithful companion, and foster father of Dionysus (Greek god of wine) who was covered with foam, referencing the gummy exudate commonly found on stems.

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