Red Campion Silene Dioica
There are some 500 species of Silene around the world, including annuals, biennials and perennials. The greatest number can be found in the Mediterranean region, but the species is also found throughout Europe, the USA, Canada, Asia, South Africa and South America.
A handful of the Silene family are a native species in the UK, the most common of which is Red Campion (Latin name: Silene Dioica). This perennial or biennial has rose-red OR pink flowers and grows in coastal areas, on farmland, hedgerows, woodland and town parks. You will often see this pink wild flower appearing a few weeks after bluebells, in late spring, and it blooms until August or September, or in some areas even as late as winter if the weather stays mild. Plants with lighter pink flowers are often a hybrid mix of Red Campion and White Campion (Silene Latifolia). Red Campion is dioecious, which means the male and female flowers are produced on separate plants.
It produces plenty of seed, so while landscape gardeners are wary of Red Campion, it is a boon for wildflower meadow enthusiasts. Red Campion also has huge value for wildlife and ecology. The RHS recommends it as perfect for pollinators; its nectar attracts bees, hoverflies and butterflies. Silene derives from the Greek woodland God, Silenus, often depicted as a drunk and covered in a sticky foam (Silenus’ name comes from sialon, the Greek word for saliva). The female flowers of the Red Campion also produce a froth that is instrumental in catching pollen from these insects, hence the name.
Growing and harvesting Red Campion
Red Campion will grow easily from seed and can be sown in either the spring or early autumn. When the seedlings are large enough to hold, plant them into individual pots; once the plant is a sufficient size, divide and plant into soil in a partially shaded area. Alternatively, makes things easy for yourself and invest in Meadowmat, a pre-grown wildflower meadow that’s as simple to lay as lawn turf.
Traditional uses for Red Campion
Thanks to its lovely colour and relatively long-lasting blossom, Red Campion is a favourite herbaceous plant among gardeners who use it to brighten up borders. As well as being named by the RHS as perfect for pollinators, Red Campion’s leaves also provide food for moths. In some countries the crushed seeds of Red Campion have traditionally been used to treat snakebites. The Silene species have roots that contain saponin, a chemical compound long used as a soap for washing clothes.