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A biennial tree, Silene Virginica is native to northern Europe, where it makes its home on mountaintops. The members of this genus are notable for their peculiar flowers, which contain an ovary and a ring of ten or more petals that are reminiscent of a rose. The flowers are usually deep green or bluish in colour and grow close to the ground.Fire Pink has a preference for drier savanna situations so may be found in upland wood edges, rocky, sandy or dry-clay wooded bluffs. It seems to be sensitive to light so an excess or lack of sunlight can lead to loss of plant vigor and population decline. Fire Pink may also be called Scarlet Catchfly and it's these scarlet red flowers that hummingbirds are attracted to. The sepals of the flowers are sticky (like those of its cousin Silene regia, (Royal Catchfly) to deter ants from climbing and feeding on the nectar. It is a short-lived perennial, but it can successfully self-seed. A stunning plant for any dry, semi-shaded garden!
Fire Pink produces spectacular red flowers. For some reason, it is not often seen in flower gardens, where introduced Pink species are typically grown. Another native species that occurs in Illinois, Silene regia (Royal Catchfly), has a somewhat similar appearance with striking red flowers, but it has 8 or more pairs of leaves along its stems and the tips of its petals are not notched. An introduced species with red flowers, Lychnis chalcedonica (Maltese Cross), is occasionally grown in flower gardens, from which it rarely escapes. Its flowers have petals that are even more deeply notched than those of Fire Pink. Maltese Cross produces its flowers in a dense globoid cluster at the apex of its central stem, and its ovate-lanceolate leaves are much broader at the base than those of Fire Pink.The fire pink is a member of the carnation family (Caryophyllaceae). Like many Silene species, the plants have sticky-hairy glandular stems, inflorescence, and upper leaves. Basal leaves are 1 to 1.5 inches to 4 inches (4 to 10 cm), lanceolate to spatulate; stem leaves are up to 6 inches (15 cm) long, opposite and in 2 to 8 pairs.
The sticky substance acts as natural flypaper to trap smaller insects, which is the reasoning behind its other common name of catchfly. The brilliant flowers attract the ruby-throated hummingbirds, which are one of the primary pollinators for the species. The plants grow in size from 6 inches to 24 inches (15-60 cm).The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Fire Pink (Silene virginica). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map. (Source: dnr.wi.gov)