16 July 2007

More on Lychnis

The caryophyllaceae family is more easily called the Pink family. It includes several weedy species, including mouse-eared and common chickweed (Cerastium and Stellaria, respectively) but also some of the more charming of garden plants: Dianthus (pinks and carnations), silene (catchflies and campions) Saponaria (soapwort) and Lychnis, (also catchflies and campions.)

We all know lots of pinks, from the cheddar pinks to sweet William to carnations; I have a silene and a saponaria, but it's the Lychnis species that are causing me entertainment (and puzzlement) of late. Some botanical flora collections put Lychnis into Silene in recent years, because of there not being enough distinction to put Lychnis into its own genus. Gotta love DNA testing,, which determines a lot of the classifications these days. Many gardeners still call Lychnis by that name, and I'm going to for the time being.

One of the best known is Maltese cross, Lychnis chalcedonica. We have it in red, white, and salmon, and I'm hardpressed to say which I like the best; all attract butterflies so they're all welcome.
But I have these other two orange-red species that I'm puzzling out. In this photo, you see Maltese cross first, then the two other species, both with significantly larger flowers:

The largest flowered one, which my friend Sharon thought might be L. arkwrightii, has bright green foliage; but it also has these furry flower buds that, when open, become the fused sepals holding the petals--and aren't they furry?

Here's the backs of all three flowers: each has some hairs, but the largest one is the furriest.
I have vacillated between thinking it's a variant of L.arkwrightii and L. miqueliana; the foliage is bright green with no bronze or red or purple undertones. The middle flower is delightful too--scarlet orange splashed with silver as the petals range towards the centre. I haven't a clue where I got this or what it is, and its label is also long gone. I am sure, however, that I picked up the largest-flowered variety at West River Greenhouses last year, so I must call and see if they know what I have.

This is Lychnis coronaria, rose campion. I love its vibrant deep fuchsia flowers and silvery foliage. We also have the white form as well as Oculata, which is white with a pale pink 'eye'.

The fluffy lychnis is Lychnis flos-cuculi 'Jenny', as I observed a double ragged robin. I bought this at a big box store, having never seen it anywhere else; it's been flowering steadily since I planted it, and I like it for its texture more than its colour.

If anyone has any suggestions about my two mystery Lychnis/Silene, I'm all ears. I've looked through all my Rix and Phillips books, and can't find either of these...I think they're gorgeous, however and am delighted that they came back after last year--despite my almost digging up the silver and orange one thinking it was a weed!

One further observation; how do other digital-camera users get their red-flowered plants to show up reasonably accurately in photos? i went to my handy dandy camera professionals the other day, asking whether I was doing something wrong because my red flowers come out orangish--and lacking in detail. Rick, my camera guru, told me that it's not me--it's the sensor in the digital camera which cannot capture natural reds accurately. There are a number of fixes (mostly in Photoshop) but I'll have to study up on this; I always stress that I'm a writer who takes photos, not a photographer as such. But I AM taking a course this fall from my camera guru, because nothing is as effective as learning first hand from a pro.


  1. Jodi: Nice post on Lychnis. I don't have the Maltese cross but I have had Lychnis coronarie reseed freely in the past. Not this year though. I think the seed must have germinated in the warm Dec./Jan and then froze as the temp dropped fast. I have always appreciated its' presence! Can't help with the ID as I don't have any of those. More for the list!

  2. I've got Maltese Cross in my garden. My mom gave it to me. It's doing great in this hot, dry weather, too.

    I have the same problem with photographing reds. I find if you change your angle sometimes it helps. I have the same problem with purples and dark blues, too.

  3. I have a pretty basic point-and-shoot, and pitiful photo editing software (you know, the kind that comes with the camera). I have two methods.

    1. If shading the flower doesn't work, try adjusting the exposure level on your camera - to -0.7, or even -1.3 if you need to. The picture may look too dark, but when you load it into your photo software, and increase the brightness and contrast (and maybe the saturation, to, if you want to), you will have the detail and colour you want.

    2. Go into your camera settings and lower the saturation on your camera until your pictures don't have that weird glow about them. Then do your contrast/brightness/(re)saturation in your super basic photo editor if you need to.

    Hope these work for you and aren't too much trouble!

  4. Jodi, what great pictures... I have no ideas what those mystery lychnis are, but I love the reds and oranges of the flowers.

    Now you have me thinking about adding more lychnis/silene into my garden. Right now I just have silene maritima (aka catchfly) but I do love it and hope it spreads nicely as a groundcover for me.

  5. I love the way Maltese Cross grows in the back lanes here along with other garden flowers like Dame's Rocket and Phlox.

    My favourite is Rose Campion ... I have trouble keeping it from year to year.

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  7. Layanee: I'm finding lots of campion seedlings--I'd give you some if you were closer...
    Kylee: Yes, dark purples are also a challenge, though I get many blues okay.
    Sarah: Thanks for that tip! I'm going to try this with my Robusta rose, which is a nice deep red when I look at it but comes out scarlet in photos!
    Blackswamp girl: It's funny how we tumble across plants in other people's gardens and realize we need them. I was at a garden tour today (more on that by the weekend) and saw a plant I MUST have...if I can grow it here. The owner isn't sure of the genus (I think it's a sage) but says it reseeds and she'll dig me up one when the weather cools off.
    Kate: i've seen Maltese Cross escaped in one spot but I'd love to see it along roadsides--and so would the butterflies.
    Rose campion seeds really well here but sometimes gets into a pout about winter/spring excessive wetness. There are usually enough seedlings to suffice, though.

  8. Hi Jodi:
    I forget if I asked you if you have the white version of L. chalcedonica?
    It is in bloom just now.

  9. Oooh... Jodi, I have a weakness for sages. Culinary or otherwise! When we get to hear more about your garden tour this weekend, will you post a picture of your mystery sage, too? Please?

  10. Lovely and informative post on Lychnis! I don't like it when they change their minds about what family a certain plant belongs to and I really don't like it when they change the botanical name of the plant. Grrrrrrr

    Sounds like a good idea to take a few photography lessons from a pro, I think I'll do the same come autumn.

    I also have problems with reds either turning out too orange-y or too pinkish. And, like Kylee, sometimes my purples don't turn out good either.

  11. Sharon: Yes, I have the white L. chalcedonica. It's more floppy than the red, but I love the look of it especially in the evening when it glows.
    blackswamp girl: You bet I'll post a photo of that sage! It's a thing of beauty, and one of those plants that you look at and say, "Want!"
    Yolanda Elizabet: I actually had a taxonomist-type individual write to me last year about the fact that he had been instrumental in having the name of a particularly favourite native plant being changed from one genus to another. (I had written about the plant on my blog). Honestly, some people don't have enough to do.....:-)


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