Red campion (Silene dioica) is a hardy herbaceous perennial in the pink or Caryophyllaceae family. Related to cultivated flowers such as dianthus and gypsophila, red campion is native to northern and central Europe. It grows wild across the UK in hedgerows, woodland and on northern and western sea-cliffs. Its vivid five-petalled rose-pink blooms can be seen in May and June, though plants can also flower less prolifically until September, or even later.
The name of the genus is thought to refer to Silenus, rustic god of woodland and drunkenness in Greek mythology, or possibly the related Greek word ‘sialon’ meaning saliva, a reference to the female flower secreting a frothy substance for capturing pollen on visiting insects. ‘Diocia’ refers to red campion’s dioecious nature, with male and female flowers produced on separate plants. Female plants tend to be less common and produce fewer flowers than male plants.
Silene dioica is also known as adder’s flower, cuckoo flower, red catch-fly, devil’s flower and Red Riding Hood. The reference to Little Red Riding Hood is due to the colour of the flowers, and other names are linked to superstition and folk medicine. In Welsh, red campion’s name ‘blodyn neidr’ translates as snake’s flower because the crushed seeds were thought to cure snakebite. In some parts of the UK, such as the Isle of Man, it was known as fairy flower, because picking red campion flowers was thought to anger the fairies.
How to grow red campion
Grow red campion in moist but well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Sow seeds in spring or autumn, or simply let this low-maintenance plant spread by self-seeding. It can grow in deep shade, but is unlikely to flower in such positions.
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