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Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

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Common Name
Starry Campion (Widowsfrill)

 

Scientific Name
Silene stellata (L.) W.T. Aiton

 

Plant Family
Pink (Caryophyllaceae)

Garden Location
Historical - not extant

 

Prime Season
Early to Late Summer

 

 

Starry Campion is a nice erect native perennial growing in the open woods, up to 20 inches in height, and usually unbranched except in the inflorescence. The stem may have fine hair.

The leaves are opposite, narrow lanceolate, entire and on the central part of the stem appear in whorls of 4, except that on the upper stem where there will be only a pair. Most surfaces may be free of hair but there is usually very fine hair on the leaf margin. There is usually a swelling of the stem at the base of the leaf whorl and ofter a purplish color there.

The inflorescence is an open cluster with numerous branches (a panicle). There will usually be a pair of small leafy bracts where the panicle divides. Stalks of the panicle and of individual flowers are usually smooth but sometimes with fine hair.

The Flowers have a green calyx that is obscurely 10-veined, with 5 teeth on the upper rim, sparsely hairy, bell-shaped, becoming more ovoid and triangular after fertilization. The individual flowers are 3/4 inch wide when open with a white corolla 2x longer than the calyx with 5 petals that have frilly or deeply fringed lobes. Flowers are perfect - stamens number 10 as in most Silenes; they have white filaments with yellowish anthers and are the length of the petals. There are 3 white styles. The three styles are branched and protrude beyond the petals. The flowers open early in the day, are open during the day, but may close in the afternoon. Flower stalks are also subtended by one or two pairs of small bracts.

Seed: Fertile flowers mature to a ovoid seed capsule that has 3 broad 2-cleft teeth at the top, giving the appearance of 6 teeth. When the numerous seeds are mature, these teeth reflex and the seeds are shaken out by the wind. Seeds are dark brown, kidney shaped with a rough surface.

 

Habitat: Starry Campion grows from a taproot and being perennial, older plants can send up multiple stems. Otherwise, it propagates from seed. It grows in partial sun in woods and clearings having moderate to dry moisture conditions.

Names: The genus, Silene, is from the Greek word seilenos and believed to be derived from Silenus who was the foster father of the Greek god Bacchus. Silenus was described as covered with foam, a reference to the white foam frequently found on stems of this genus. The species, stellata, is a Latin word applied to plants with flowers that have a star-like appearance. The author names for the plant classification are: First to classify was 'L.' which refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. His work was amended by ‘W.T.Aiton’ which refers to William Townsend Aiton (1766-1849), Scottish botanist, son of William Aiton, he succeeded his father as director of Kew Gardens, was a founder of the Royal Horticultural Society, and published a second edition of his father’s catalogue Hortus Kewensis.

Comparisons: This Silene is distinct with the frilly petal lobes and the leaves in a whorl. Close relatives with white flowers that may be mistaken for this species are: Night-flowering Catchfly, S. noctiflora, which also has 3 styles, but flowers open at night; White Campion, S. latifolia, which has white petals but opposite leaves and Evening Campion, S. nivea, which has no ribs on the calyx and opposite leaves.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Starry Campion drawing

Above: Note the upper most leaf set is a pair not a whorl. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

Below: The lobes of the petals are deeply fringed. Flowers have 10 stamens and 3 styles.

Starry Campion Starry Campion flower closeup

Below: 1st photo - The calyx is bell shaped, hairy, with 5 pointed lobes. The 10 veins are a slightly deeper green. This example has fine hair on the stalk and the calyx. 2nd photo - A leaf node on the upper stem. Nodes usually have swelling and a purplish color. 3rd photo - The taproot.

calyx stem node root

Below: The typical 4 leaf whorl in the central part of the stem, with the slight swelling (reddish area) where the leaves meet. Stem has fine short hair.

Starry Campion leaf

Below: The ovoid seed capsule is smooth on the outside. The seeds are dark brown, kidney shape, with a wrinkled surface.

seed and capsule

Notes:

Notes: Starry Campion is a historical Garden plant. Eloise Butler first planted it on May 9th in 1910 with plants from Kelsey's Nursery in North Carolina; again on May 1, 1912 with plants from Kelsey's and then on Aug. 14, 1912 found some indigenous plants growing on the west hillside. The plant was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 Garden Census but has not been on any later census. Starry Campion is native to Minnesota, found only in the southern part of the state, in 26 counties across the southern section and up into the metro area. In the U.S. it is found from the central plains eastward except for Florida, New Hampshire and Maine. Not found in Canada.

Eloise Butler wrote of this plant: "Dusky glens are illuminated by the Starry Campion, Silene stellata, thus refuting the poet who says that the night has a thousand stars and the day but one. The poignant beauty of the flower is due to the delicate white-fringed petals that cap the green calyx bell. Some of the silenes are catch-flies and are active assistants in the campaign against the malignant germ carriers, slaying innumerable hordes by glutinous hairs." Published 7/30/1911, Minneapolis Sunday Tribune

There are twelve Silenes found in Minnesota, 4 native and 8 not native; this species is one of 4 that is native. The Silenes native to Minnesota are: S. antirrhina, Sleepy Catchfly; S. drummondii, Drummond's Campion; S. nivea, Snowy Campion; and S. stellata, Starry Campion.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

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11/15/15