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.


Deptford Pink, White Form (Dianthus armeria)

Apparently quite rare, since floras do not mention a white form, but abundant in this tiny meadow near Cranberry, where it was blooming in early July. Some chatter on the internet suggests that white Deptford Pinks turn up here and there once in a while, and other pinks often vary in color in the range from purple through white. The pink stamens are a nice decorative touch.

UPDATE: Although none of the printed floras we consulted mentioned a white form, the Web-based Flora of North America (under Dianthus armeria subspecies armeria) does: “petals reddish with white dots (rarely all white).”

A picture of the usual pink form is here.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

DIANTHUS L. PINK, CARNATION. Calyx cylindrical, nerved or striate, 5-toothed, subtended by 2 or more imbricated bractlets. Stamens 10. Styles 2. Pod 1-celled, 4-valved at the apex. Seeds flattish on the back; embryo scarcely curved. —Ornamental plants, of well-known aspect and value in cultivation. (Name from Dios, of Jupiter, and anthos, flower, i.e. Jove’s own flower.)

D. ARMERIA L. (DEPTFORD P.) Annual; flowers clustered; bractlets of the calyx and bracts lance-awl-form, herbaceous, downy, as long as the tube; leaves linear, hairy; petals small, rose-color with white dots, crenate. Fields, etc., Mass, to Va., w. to s. Ont., Mich., and Ia. July. (Adv. from Eu.)


Mouse-Ear Chickweed (Cerastium fontanum)

A pretty little flower when we magnify it like this, Chickweed is one of those low lawn-dwellers that suburban homeowners abhor. If your lawn simply must be made up of uniform blades of grass snipped to a precisely even height, then chickweed is your enemy. Otherwise, it does little harm, and cheers us up with starry little flowers that reward a close look, giving us an incentive to get better acquainted with the natural world of our own front yards. This patch grew in a side yard in Beechview, where it was blooming in the middle of June.

Gray describes the genus and the species, which he lists as C. vulgatum:

CERASTIUM L. MOUSE-EAR CHICKWEED
Sepals 5, rarely 4. Petals as many, 2-lobed or -cleft, rarely entire, often wanting in some of the flowers. Stamens 10 or fewer. Styles mostly 5, rarely 4 or 3, opposite the sepals. Pod 1-celled, usually elongated, -often 1 Curved, membranaceous, opening at the summit by twice as many teeth as there were styles, many-seeded. Seeds rough. (Name from Keras, a horn, alluding the shape of the pod.)

C. vulgatum L. (COMMON M.) Stems clammy-hairy, spreading (1.5-4 dm. long); leaves chiefly oblong (varying to spatulate and ovate-lanceolate); upper bracts nearly herbaceous; flowers at first clustered; sepals 4-6 mm. long, obtusish; pedicels longer, the fruiting ones much longer than the -calyx. (C. viscosum of the Linnean herbarium; C. triviale Link.) Fields, dooryards, etc.; common. May-July. (Nat. from Eu.)


Long-Leaved Starwort (Stellaria longifolia)

Also called Long-Leaved Stitchwort, this is a remarkably delicate little plant whose ethereally insubstantial stems and leaves make it seem as though the starry little flowers are floating in the air. It likes an overgrown meadow; this one was growing among clovers and cinquefoils in a meadow near Cranberry, where it was blooming in the middle of June.

A good description from Mathews’ Field  Book of North American Wild Flowers:

A tall very slender species with many branches, the stem with rough angles, and the light green leaves small and lance-shaped. The tiny flowers like white stars, with five white petals so deeply cleft that they appear as ten, sepals nearly equalling the petals in length. 10-20 inches high. In wet grassy places everywhere.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

STELLARIA 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-many-seeded. 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. in part, not Wahlenb.

S. longifolia Muhl. Stem erect, weak, often with rough angles (2-5 dm. high); leaves linear, acutish at both ends, spreading; cymes scaly-bracted, at length lateral, peduncled, many-flowered, the slender pedicels spreading or deflexed; fruit pale straw-colored; seeds smooth. (Alsine Britton.)—Grassy places, Nfd. to Md., and westw. June, July. (Eu.)



Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria)

These little flowers were brought over as cottage-garden staples, but they liked it here well enough to adopt it as their new home. They’re not unusual, but still just uncommon enough that running across one in a vacant lot is an unexpected delight. They seem to prefer poor soil, and up on Presque Isle can be found in great numbers just behind the dunes. This one was blooming beside a sidewalk in Beechview in early June.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

DIANTHUS L. PINK, CARNATION
Calyx cylindrical, nerved or striate, 5-toothed, subtended by 2 or more imbricated bractlets. Stamens 10. Styles 2. Pod 1-celled, 4-valved at the apex. Seeds flattish on the back; embryo scarcely curved. —Ornamental plants, of well-known aspect and value in cultivation. (Name from Dios, of Jupiter, and anthos, flower, i.e. Jove’s own flower.)

D. ARMERIA L. (DEPTFORD P.) Annual; flowers clustered; bractlets of the calyx and bracts lance-awl-form, herbaceous, downy, as long as the tube; leaves linear, hairy; petals small, rose-color with white dots, crenate. Fields, etc., Mass, to Va., w. to s. Ont., Mich., and Ia. July. (Adv. from Eu.)


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