Pink family (Caryophyllaceae)
Description: This native perennial plant is 12½' tall and usually erect. It is unbranched or branched very little. The round central stem is hairless to densely pubescent and somewhat swollen at the base of the leaves, where it is often reddish purple. The lowermost and uppermost leaves are usually opposite, while the middle leaves occur in whorls of 4. They are up to 4" long and 1½" across, lanceolate to narrowly ovate, smooth along the margins, and sessile. The upper surface of each leaf is hairless, while the lower surface is hairless or finely pubescent.
The central stem terminates in a panicle of flowers up to 1' long. There is a pair of small leafy bracts where the panicle divides. The stalks of this panicle and the pedicels of the flowers are hairless or finely pubescent. The flowers occur individually or in groups of 2-3 at the terminal end of the stalks. Each flower is about ¾" across, consisting of 5 white frilled petals, 3 slender white styles, 10 stamens with slender white filaments, and a tubular light green calyx that is bell-shaped (campanulate) with 5 teeth along its upper rim. Each frilled petal has 8-12 narrow lobes along its broad outer edge, while at the base it becomes quite narrow. The outer surface of the calyx is hairless or finely pubescent, and it has faint markings that are a darker shade of green. The blooming period occurs during mid- to late summer and lasts about a month. There is no floral scent. The flowers remain open during the evening, night, and early morning; in the presence of bright sunlight, they have a tendency to close-up during the middle of the day. Each flower is replaced by an ovoid seed capsule with 6 small teeth along its upper rim; each capsule contains several seeds. The seeds are reniform or reniform-orbicular with a fine pebbly surface. The root system consists of a deep taproot; older plants may tiller from the base and send up multiple stems from this taproot. Starry Campion reproduces by reseeding itself.
Cultivation: The preference is light shade or partial sun, mesic to dry conditions, and a soil containing loam, clay-loam, or a little rocky material. When exposed to full sunlight, the leaves become yellowish green and they are less attractive. Sometimes the stems flop over when this species is grown in the fertile soil of flower gardens.
Range & Habitat: Starry Campion is widely distributed in Illinois and occurs occasionally in most counties (see Distribution Map). There are two varieties of Starry Campion that can be found throughout the state, Silene stellata stellata and Silene stellata scabrella. The typical variety of this species is hairless (or nearly so), while var. scabrella is quite pubescent, as indicated above. Habitats include upland oak woodlands that are somewhat open, savannas, wooded riverbanks, and meadows near wooded areas (the latter habitat for this species occurs primarily in northern Illinois). This conservative species is usually found in higher quality natural areas. Fire and other kinds of disturbance are beneficial if they reduce dense shade from Acer saccharum (Sugar Maple) and invasive shrubs.
Faunal Associations: The flowers are pollinated primarily by moths and, to a lesser extent, by bumblebees. These insects suck nectar from the flowers. The caterpillars of Anepia capsularis (Capsule Moth) feed on the seed capsules of many members in the Pink family, although it is unclear if Starry Campion is one of the host species. It is also unclear to what extent deer feed on the foliage of this species in wooded areas. Generally, the foliage and seeds of Silene spp. (Campions) contain varying amounts of saponins and are somewhat toxic to mammalian herbivores. The faunal-floral relationships of Starry Campion are still poorly understood.
Photographic Location: The wildflower garden at the apartment complex of the webmaster in Urbana, Illinois. The plants in the photograph are the pubescent variety of Starry Campion, or Silene stellata scabrella.
Comments: The flowers of Starry Campion are quite beautiful. It should be grown more often in flower gardens. This species is easy to identity because of its deeply frilled petals and whorled leaves. Other white-flowered Silene spp. (Campions) lack deeply frilled petals and their leaves always occur in opposite pairs.