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Silene virginica

Previously known as:

  • Lychnis virginica
  • Melandrium virginicum
  • Silene catesbaei
  • Silene virginica var. hallensis
  • Silene virginica var. robusta
Phonetic Spelling
sy-LEE-nee vir-JIN-ih-kuh
Description

Fire Pink is a short-lived, herbaceous perennial that may grow 2 to 3 feet tall and has hairy, sticky stems. The majority of leaves originate at the base of the stem and have 2 to 8 pairs of stem leaves. Each stem terminates in a cyme of 3 to 10 scarlet flowers that are five-petaled and notched on the tips. They bloom from late May to early July. The plant is a member of the Caryophyllaceae family that includes carnations and pinks.

Fire Pink is native to the central and eastern United States. It may be found in woodlands bluffs, rocky slopes, or meadows. According to the U.S. Forest Service, Fire Pink is relatively uncommon and considered rare in some locales. The plant is classified as endangered in Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

The genus name, Silene, is derived from "catchfly" or "campion." The plants in this genus have sticky hairs that discourage ants and other insects from eating the plant. The species name, virginica, means "of Virginia."

The plant thrives in partial sun with dry to medium moist well-drained soils of sand. gravel, or light loam. The plant will tolerate full sun but prefers afternoon shade. It is dry soil, drought, and rocky soil tolerant. Butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to the nectar of the flowers. They are propagated by seeds, cuttings, and division. The division is best done in late fall or early spring. This plant has a low flammability rating.

The Fire Pink plant is mostly erect but has weak stems and has a taproot. The stems are hairy and sticky with medium to dark green basal and stem leaves. The upper stems terminate in cymes of loosely arranged flowers that bloom from late spring to early summer. The flowers are scarlet red and have five spreading petals that are deeply notched at the tips. Each flower is replaced by a seed capsule during the summer.

The plant may be used in borders or rock gardens. It is probably best grown in meadows, woodlands, naturalized areas so that it may freely reseed itself. 

This plant was selected as the 2015 NC Wildflower of the Year, a program managed by the North Carolina Botanical Garden with some financial support from the Garden Club of North Carolina

Seasons of Interest: 

Bloom: Spring and Summer   Foliage: Spring, Summer, and Fall        Fruit: Summer

Quick ID Hints:

  • green mostly erect, hairy, sticky stems
  • basal leaves of medium to dark green that appear lanceolate to spatulate
  • opposite stem leaves occur in 2 to 8 pairs
  • each stem terminates in cymes of 3 to 10 blooms
  • flowers are 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter with five scarlet red spreading petals with deeply notched tips
  • flowers are replaced by a tan seed capsule 

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: Fire Pink is generally pest and disease-free.

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
var. virginica
Tags:
#hummingbirds#full sun tolerant#perennials#wildlife plant#red flowers#food source wildlife#fire low flammability#NC native#summer flowers#herb garden culinary#native garden#spring interest#pollinator plant#native wildflower#wildflower garden#food source summer#bird friendly#nectar plant late spring#butterfly friendly#nectar plant early summer#nectar plant mid-spring#nectar plant mid-summer#partial shade tolerant#NC Wildflower of the Year#erect
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
var. virginica
Tags:
#hummingbirds#full sun tolerant#perennials#wildlife plant#red flowers#food source wildlife#fire low flammability#NC native#summer flowers#herb garden culinary#native garden#spring interest#pollinator plant#native wildflower#wildflower garden#food source summer#bird friendly#nectar plant late spring#butterfly friendly#nectar plant early summer#nectar plant mid-spring#nectar plant mid-summer#partial shade tolerant#NC Wildflower of the Year#erect
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Silene
    Species:
    virginica
    Family:
    Caryophyllaeae
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Central and Eastern North America
    Distribution:
    Native: AL, AR, DE, GA, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, MI, MS, MO NY, NC, OH, OK, PA, SC, TN, VA, WV, and WI
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    Flowers are attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. Songbirds such as juncos pine siskins, sparrow, and lark eat the seeds.
    Play Value:
    Wildlife Food Source
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    fire in the landscape. Fire Pink is moderately resistant to deer.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 0 ft. 6 in. - 2 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 0 ft. 10 in. - 2 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Herb
    Native Plant
    Perennial
    Wildflower
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Erect
    Maintenance:
    Low
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day)
    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:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    12 inches-3 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Cream/Tan
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Each flower is replaced by a tan-colored, ovoid capsule that has 6 teeth at the opening. When the capsule splits open, it releases many flat, rough, kidney-shaped, gray-colored seeds. The fruits appear from late June through late July.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Red/Burgundy
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Cyme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Tubular
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    Each stem has a terminal cyme of 3 to 10 flowers that are loosely arranged. The flowers measure 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter and are scarlet or crimson red. They have 5 spreading, narrow, notched petals. The calyx is tubular and green to purple. The greenish sepals tinged with red are united into a sticky tube with a 5-toothed rim. There are 10 stamens and 3 styles that are shorter than the petals. Flowers bloom from late May to early July.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Opposite
    Leaf Shape:
    Oblanceolate
    Spatulate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are medium to dark green with basal and stem leaves. The basal leaves are lanceolate to spatulate in shape and measure up to 4 inches long and 1 to 1.5 inches wide. The stem leaves are up to 6 inches long, appear opposite, and occur in 2 to 8 pairs. Young leaves are hairy, but they become nearly hairless as they mature. The margins are entire.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are mostly erect, glandular, sticky, and hairy. The sticky substance traps small insects. The stem branches at the base with the basal leaves. The upper stems terminate in cymes of flowers.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Meadow
    Naturalized Area
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Cottage Garden
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Rock Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Hummingbirds
    Pollinators
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Fire
    Poor Soil