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Silene chalcedonica is often confused with:
Silene virginica Silene virginica
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Eryngium planum Eryngium
Monarda didyma Flowers
Salvia farinacea Salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue'

None-such Silene chalcedonica

Previously known as:

  • Lychnis chalcedonica
  • Lychnis fulgida
  • Lynchnis bicolor
Phonetic Spelling
sy-LEE-nee kalk-ee-DON-ee-kuh
Description

Maltese Cross is an erect deciduous perennial plant that grows about 20 to 40 inches tall. It has brilliant red flowers that have petals in the shape of the Maltese Cross that bloom in the summer months. It is a member of the Caryophyllaceae family that includes carnations and pinks.

The plant is native to Eastern Europe to Siberia and China. The plant is found in moist forest meadows, shrublands, and ravines in Russia. In Alaska, it also has been found growing in disturbed areas, along roadsides, woodland borders, and open woodlands.

The genus name, Silene, means "catchfly" or "campion." The plants in this genus have sticky hairs that discourage ants and other insects from eating the plant. The species name, chalcedonica, means "of Chalcedon." This is derived from the name of an old city that is now a part of Turkey.

In 1994, the genus name was formally changed to Silene chalcedonica. The plant was first named by the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, in 1753 and was known as Lychnis chalcedonica. In 1901, the German botanist, Ernst Hans Ludwig Krause, published the plant under the name, Silene chalcedonica. 

The plant has many common names including 'Tears of Christ,' "Jerusalem Cross,' and 'Flower of Constantinople.' The name, 'Maltese Cross,' is derived from the shape of the plant's flowers.

The Maltese Cross prefers full sun and requires constant moisture and well-drained soil. It does well in loamy or sandy soils and prefers a sheltered exposure. Due to the height of the plant, staking may be required. A sheltered exposure would be beneficial to prevent wind damage. The blooming period may be extended if the faded flowers are removed. The plant is propagated by seeds, division of its rhizomes, and basal cuttings. Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies are attracted to the bright-colored flowers.

The plant has an erect stout green stem and green ovate to lanceolate leaves. The bright red flowers appear in clusters at the top of the stem. Each flower measures about 1 inch in diameter and has 5 deeply divided lobes. Each lobe is split into two smaller lobes. The flower shape resembles the Maltese Cross. The flowers are less commonly found in colors of pink or white. The fruit is a capsule that contains many seeds.

The Maltese Cross is a popular ornamental plant for many gardeners and received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit. The brilliant scarlet red flowers of the Maltese Cross are very eye-catching and would be a lovely addition to a cottage garden, pollinator garden, or border garden.

Seasons of interest:

Bloom:  Summer             Foliage:  Spring and Summer       Fruit:  Fall

Quick ID Hints:

  • erect, stout green stems
  • medium green ovate to lanceolate leaves, basal leaves are broad with rounded ends
  • clusters of flowers in bright scarlet red with each flower in the shape of a Maltese Cross
  • dry fruit capsule with numerous seeds

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  Aphids and slugs are known to feed on the Maltese Cross. The plant is generally disease-free.

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#hummingbird friendly#deciduous#full sun tolerant#specimen#red flowers#cottage garden#rabbit resistant#summer flowers#deer resistant#cutting garden#pollinator plant#green leaves#butterfly friendly#partial shade tolerant#bee friendly#wind damage prone#coastal plant#perennial#erect
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#hummingbird friendly#deciduous#full sun tolerant#specimen#red flowers#cottage garden#rabbit resistant#summer flowers#deer resistant#cutting garden#pollinator plant#green leaves#butterfly friendly#partial shade tolerant#bee friendly#wind damage prone#coastal plant#perennial#erect
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Silene
    Species:
    chalcedonica
    Family:
    Caryophyllaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Biennial
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Eastern Europe to Siberia and China
    Distribution:
    Native: Altay, Central European Russia, China North-Central, East European Russia, Irkutsk, Kazakhstan, Khabarovsk, Krasnoyarsk, Mongolia, South European Russia, West Siberia, and Xinjiang. Distribution: Bulgaria, Canada--Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, New South Wales, North European Russia, Norway, Romania, Sweden, United States--CT, ID, IL, IN, IA, ME, MA, MI, MN, NH, NJ, NY, PA, VT, and WI, Vietnam.
    Wildlife Value:
    The plant attracts bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other birds.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 1 ft. 8 in. - 3 ft. 4 in.
    Width: 0 ft. 4 in. - 1 ft. 8 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Herbaceous Perennial
    Perennial
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Columnar
    Erect
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    12 inches-3 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is an ovoid capsule and measures 1/3 inch long. The capsule splits open into five lobes and releases the seeds. The seeds are reddish-brown, kidney-shaped, and measure 0.7 to 1 mm in diameter.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Red/Burgundy
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Corymb
    Head
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Good Cut
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Star
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are 10 to 50 dense corymb-like blooms at the end of the stems. The cluster measure 1.5 to 3.5 inches in diameter. Each flower is less than 1 inch in diameter and has five scarlet red petals with light green calyx. It is in the shape of a Maltese Cross. The tip of the petal is the widest and is deeply cleft into two lobes. Each lobe has a somewhat ragged tip. The stamens have red filaments with yellow anthers. They bloom from early to mid-summer and last about 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Opposite
    Leaf Shape:
    Cordate
    Lanceolate
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are opposite, lanceolate to ovate, and measure 2 to 5 inches long and 0.75 to 3.5 inches wide. The upper surface is medium green, and the lower surface is a lighter green. They are sparsely hairy on the upper and lower surface of the leaf. The base of the leaf is rounded. The basal leaves are broad with rounded ends.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Form:
    Straight
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are light green, stout, erect, and hairy. They are unbranched or have very few branches. The central stem bears the head-like cluster of flowers.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Lawn
    Meadow
    Landscape Theme:
    Cottage Garden
    Cutting Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Small groups
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Hummingbirds
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Rabbits