FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Silene regia is an upright to reclining perennial wildflower with narrow lance-shaped leaves. In summer loose clusters of scarlet red flowers similar to Phlox spp. rise above the foliage on slender stems. The floret bases are tubular and the petals are spreading with pointed or notched tips. Plants thrive in sunny well drained prairie-like settings or gardens with well drained mesic or dry soil.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Silene regia is native from Ohio south to Georgia and Florida and west to Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Mississippi. It is rare through most of the range.
Plants are indigenous to mesic or dry Blackland prairies, dry savannas, upland forests, limestone barrens, prairie remnants along railroads and roadsides. This fire tolerant species usually occurs on barren areas without an abundance of other vegetation.
Plants are hardy in USDA Zones 4-9.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Silene regia is an erect multi-stemmed wildflower that grows from a fleshy taproot. Stems and leaves are covered with fine white hairs.
The leaves are lance shaped and up to 4” long and 2” wide. They become smaller as the stems rise.
From mid to late summer, clusters of brilliant 1” scarlet flowers rise above the foliage. The florets have narrow tubes that spread into 5 pointed or notched petals. The blooms have exerted stamens and gray anthers. The calyx is covered with sticky glandular hairs.
After flowering, elongated capsules less than ½” long form. Each has an opening at the tip surrounded by 6-8 recurved teeth. The seed inside are dark brown and kidney shaped.
Flowering stems rise to 2-4’ and plants spread to 1-1.5’.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Silene regia grows best in sun or partly sunny sites with moist or dry soil.
Plants are pest resistant and tolerant of drought and loamy, clay or rocky soils.
This species is considered to be a short lived perennial especially if overcrowded. In favorable sites, populations replenish themselves by reseeding.
This species tolerates controlled burns. It thrives in sunny sites with open ground and declines if large vegetation encroaches after fire is eliminated.
LANDSCAPE USES: Silene regia is an excellent Accent plant for a Rock Garden. Locate small Groups of plants throughout Wildlife Gardens or Mass them into a spectacular Groundcover planting. This species provides showy Summer Flowers and is a valuable component of Cottage Gardens, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings and Perennial Borders.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Silene regia mingles cheerfully with Ceanothus americanus, Eryngium yuccifolium, Liatris aspera, Parthenium quinquefolium, Rudbeckia hirta, Schizachyrium scoparium or Sporobolus heterolepis.
Silene virginica is more shade tolerant, lower growing and spring blooming but it would be a suitable substitute in some garden situations.
TRIVIA: Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the principle pollinator of Silene regia. Flowers also provide nectar for large butterflies like the swallowtails.
Silene regia is called royal catchfly because of the sticky hairs on the calyx that are reminiscent of fly paper. The sticky surface deters ants from climbing to the flower to steal nectar.
This species belongs to the Pink Family (Caryophyllaceae). The flowers are similar to those of Silene virginica. S. regia is taller with pointed or slightly notched petals and is more likely to occur in prairies. S. virginica is lower growing with deeply notched petals and a preference for woodlands.