white campion (Silene latifolia)
Lychnis alba Mill.
Lychnis × loveae B. Boivin
Lychnis vespertina Sibth.
Melandrium album (Mill.) Garcke
Silene alba (Mill.) Krause
Silene pratensis (Raf.) Gren. & Godr.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of white campion
is Silene latifolia Poir. European botanists recognize several subspecies of
Silene latifolia, at least two of which appear to occur in North America:
subsp. latifolia [=Silene alba subsp. divaricata (Reichenbach) Walters], a
commonly occurring form here and subsp. alba (Miller) Greuter & Burdet,
less common in North America, . However, most of our material tends to
be intermediate, making recognition of subspecies here of little value. Pre-
sumably there has been extensive gene exchange between populations of
this outbreeding species since its introduction into North America. It should
be noted, however, that subspecies alba is often encountered in reference
works, with no distrinction between Silene latifolia and Silene latifolia sub-
NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: White campion is a 1.5 to 3.5 foot tall perennial (or sometimes bi-
ennial) plant usually with a branched crown. White cockle has several,
simple, stiff-hairy, jointed stems that can be spreading or nearly erect.
The plant is hairy below and glandular toward the top.
Leaves: Basal leaves lance-shaped, up to 10 cm long and 2 cm broad,
hairy, slenderly to broadly stalked. Stem leaves opposite, ovate to lance-
olate, simple, in 6-9 pairs, the lower ones often larger than the basal,
slightly reduced and stalkless above.
Flowers: The plant is dioecious, with male and female flowers borne on
different plants. The showy, fragrant flowers, which are solitary on long peduncles or in cymose clusters, have five white or pink petals that greatly
exceed the calyx. Calyx 15-20 mm long, that of the male flowers 10-nerv-
ed, that of the female 20-nerved and becoming much inflated in fruit, the
narrow lobes not twisted. The petals are deeply notched with tiny ears on
the sides. The flowers open in the evening and close by noon. Appendages
about 1 mm long, triangular, with irregular edges. There are five styles.
Fruit/Seeds: The small, rounded, rough seeds are produced in a bulb-like capsule. The 1-celled, ovoid-cylindric, opening by five 2-cleft valves that
are spreading but not reflexed. Seeds about 1.5 mm long, dark bluish-brown, prominently with warty bumps in concentric rows, the base of the bumps
finely bordered with small teeth.
Roots: White campion produces a fleshy taproot and thick lateral roots.
REGENERATION PROCESS: White campion reproduces by seeds
and short rootstocks. Since this species is dioecious, not all plants produce
seed. However, female plants are capable of producing 1,600 to 24,000
seeds per plant.
HABITAT TYPES: White campion is found in grasslands and in new
clover and alfalfa seedings, especially on well-drained soils. While fields,
roadsides, pastures, grass embankments, and waste places are character-
istic white campion habitats, the species is also found in many undisturbed
areas, where it can be mistaken for a native.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: White campion prefers open, full sun
sites that have well-drained soils.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Flowering begins in early-summer
and continues to late-summer (June through August).
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Silene latifolia subspecies alba is distri-
buted throughout much of the United States with the exception of the Gulf
Coast states (also Oklahoma and Arizona). It is not reported as occurring in
any Canadian province. However, the PLANTS Database has Silene latifolia
occurring in all Canadian provinces except the northern territories and
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: White campion attracts butterflies and
White campion can be a serious problem in small grains, alfalfa, clover, and
grass seed fields. Its seeds are difficult to separate from commercially pro-
duced clover or alfalfa seed.
The root of white campion has been used as a soap substitute for washing
clothes. The soap is obtained by simmering the root in hot water.
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