Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh

Caryophyllaceae

White Campion (Silene latifolia ssp. alba)

A European immigrant that has established itself all over eastern North America. It likes cultivated or recently disturbed ground; this plant was growing in a lot in Beechview that had recently been filled in, where it was blooming in late June. It also goes by the name of Evening Lychnis, because its flowers are nocturnal, closing during the day unless the weather is dreary, as it was on the rainy day when this picture was taken.

The taxonomy of this species is in a dreadful state. It seems that most current botanists accept the name we give above (Silene latifolia subspecies alba), but in published works we find it listed under a wide variety of names, some of them confusingly similar to the names of confusingly similar species. Older botanists place this species in the genus Lychnis, which differs from Silene in very small structural details of the flowers—so small, apparently, that botanists have now decided to disband the genus, absorbing its members into Silene. Thus in Gray this species is Lychnis alba; but Gray also records Silene latifolia as a synonym for S. vulgaris, the Bladder Campion. Other botanists record this species as Silene alba.

We give Gray’s descriptions of both Lychnis and Silene, since his description of the one depends on the other:

SILÈNE L. CATCHFLY. CAMPION. Calyx 5-toothed, 10-many-nerved, naked at the base. Stamens 10. Styles 3, rarely 4. Pod 1-celled, sometimes 3-celled at least at the base, opening by 3 or 6 teeth at the apex. — Flowers solitary or in cymes. Petals mostly crowned with a scale at the base of the blade. (Name from sialon, saliva, from the viscid exudation on the stems and calyx of many species. The English name Catchfly alludes to the same peculiarity.)

LÝCHNIS [Tourn.] L. CAMPION. Styles 5, rarely 4, and pod opening by as many or twice as many teeth; otherwise nearly as in Silène. (Ancient Greek name for a scarlet or flame-colored species, from lychnos, a light or lamp.)

Calyx-teeth not twisted; petals showy, much exserted; plant green.

Flowers dioecious or polygamous.

L. alba Mill. (WHITE CAMPION.) Leaves ovate to lance-oblong; flowers white or pink, fragrant, opening in the evening; calyx-teeth longer [than in L. dioeca], attenuate; capsule ovoid conical, narrow-mouthed at dehiscence. (L. vespertina Sibth.) — Waste grounds and roadsides, but less common [than L. dioeca]. (Adv. from Old World. ) — Resembles Silene noctiflora but has 5 styles.

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In his Field Book of American Wild Flowers, F. Schuyler Mathews gives us this description:

A charming plant naturalized from the old country, with densely fine-hairy, ovate-lance-shaped leaves and stem, both dark green; the leaves opposite. The sweet-scented flowers are white, closely resembling those of Silene noctiftora; in Lychnis, however, the flower has five styles, in Silene, three. Both species open their blossoms toward evening and close them during the following morning. The white petals are deeply cleft and crowned at the base with miniature petajlike divisions. The calyx is inflated, and often stained maroon-crimson along the ribs, which are sticky-hairy; after becoming still more inflated it withers and leaves exposed the vase-shaped light brown seed-vessel, pinked at the small opening above. 1-2 feet high. In waste places and borders of fields, from Me. to N. J. and N. Y. Probably farther west. Found at Phillip’s Beach, Marblehead, Mass.


Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)

Also called Bouncing Bet, this cheerful pink  came over as a garden flower, but is now thoroughly established along roadsides and at the edge of the woods; this plant was growing against a tombstone in an overgrown cemetery in Beechview, where it was blooming in the middle of July. The flowers are very pale pink verging on white; the double forms Gray mentions seldom or never occur in the wild plants seen around Pittsburgh. The name “Soapwort” reminds us that a lathery soap can be made from the plant; it is, however, poisonous.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

SAPONARIA L. Calyx narrowly ovoid or subcylindric, 5-toothed, obscurely nerved, naked. Stamens 10. Styles 2. Pod 1-celled, or incompletely 2-4-celled at base, 4-toothed at the apex. — Coarse annuals or perennials, with large flowers. (Name from sapo, soap, the mucilaginous juice forming a lather with water.)

S. officinalis L. (SOAPWORT, BOUNCING BET.) Flowers in corymbed clusters; calyx terete; petals crowned with an appendage at the top of the claw; leaves oval-lanceolate. — Roadsides, etc. July-Sept. — A stout perennial, with large rose-colored flowers, commonly double.  (Adv. from Eu.)

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In How to Know the Wild Flowers (1909), Mrs. Dana gives us this description of the plant:

BOUNCING BET. SOAPWORT.

Saponaria officinalis. Pink Family.

Stem.—Rather stout; swollen at the joints. Leaves.—Oval; opposite. Flowers.—Pink or white; clustered. Calyx.—Of five united sepals. Corolla.—Of five pinkish, long-clawed petals (frequently the flowers are double). Stamens.—Ten. Pistil.—One, with two styles.

A cheery pretty plant is this with large, rose-tinged flowers which are especially effective when double.

Bouncing Bet is of a sociable turn and is seldom found far from civilization, delighting in the proximity of farm-houses and their belongings, in the shape of children, chickens, and cattle. She comes to us from England, and her “feminine comeliness and bounce” suggest to Mr. Burroughs a Yorkshire housemaid. The generic name is from sapo—soap—and refers to the lather which the juice forms with water, and which is said to have been used as a substitute for soap.


Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera)

A chickweed with ambitions to be known as a wild flower rather than a mere weed. To that end it grows in the woods (rather than in your lawn) and produces flowers many times the size of the ones on the tiny chickweeds that grow in yards and gardens. Although spring is its primary blooming season, it can bloom again from later growth, often with smaller flowers than in the spring. This plant was one of a small colony growing along a woodland trail in Scott, where it was blooming in early July.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

STELLÀRIA L. CHICKWEED. STARWORT. Sepals 4-5. Petals (white) 4-5, deeply 2-cleft, sometimes none. Stamens 8, 10, or fewer. Styles 3, rarely 4 or 5, opposite as many sepals. Pod ovoid, 1-celled, opening by twice as many valves as there are styles, several-manyseeded. Seeds naked.—Flowers solitary or cymose, terminal or appearing lateral by the prolongation of the stem from the upper axils. (Name from stella, a star, in allusion to the star-shaped flowers.) Alsine L. in part, not Wahlenb.

S. púbera Michx. (GREAT С.) Root perennial; leaves elliptic-oblong, ciliolate, 1.5-5 cm. long, sessile or the lowest somewhat petiolate; petals longer than the calyx; stamens 10. (Alsine Britton.) — Shaded rocks, N. J. and Pa. to Ind. and southw. May. — The petals are cleft sometimes half their length, sometimes nearly to the base. Late shoots produce much larger leaves and often reduced flowers.


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