Wild Pink or Catchfly – Flowers

(Silene Caroliniana)

Pink family

(S. Pennsylvanica of Gray)

Flowers—Rose pink, deep or very pale; about 1 inch broad, on slender footstalks, in terminal clusters. Calyx tubular, 5-toothed, much enlarged in fruit, sticky ; 5 petals with claws enclosed in calyx, wedged-shaped above, slightly notched. Stamens to ; pistil with 3 styles. Stem: 4 to 10 in. high, hairy, sticky above, growing in tufts. Leaves: Basal ones spatulate ; 2 or 3 pairs of lance-shaped, smaller leaves seated on stem.

Preferred Habitat—Dry, gravelly, sandy, or rocky soil.

Flowering Season—April—June.

Distribution—New England, south to Georgia, westward to Kentucky.

Fresh, dainty, and innocent-looking as Spring herself are these bright flowers. Alas, for the tiny creatures that try to climb up the rosy tufts to pilfer nectar, they and their relatives are not so innocent as they appear ! While the little crawlers are almost within reach of the cup of sweets, their feet are gummed to the viscid matter that coats it, and here their struggles end as flies’ do on sticky fly-paper, or birds’ on limed twigs. A naturalist counted sixty-two little corpses on the sticky stem of a single pink. All this tragedy to protect a little nectar for the butterflies which, in sipping it, transfer the pollen from one flower to another, and so help them to produce the most beautiful and robust offspring.

The pink, which has two sets of stamens of five each, elevates first one set, then the other, for economy’s sake and to run less risk of failure to get its pollen transferred in case of rain when its friends are not flying. After all the golden dust has been shed, however, up come the three recurved styles from the depth of the tube to receive pollen brought by butterflies from younger flowers. There are few cups so deep that the largest bumblebees cannot suck them. Flies which feed on the pink’s pollen only, some-times come by mistake to older blossoms in the stigmatic stage, and doubtless cross-fertilize them once in a while.

In waste places and woods farther southward and westward, and throughout the range of the Wild Pink as well, clusters of the Sleepy Catchfly (S. antirrhina) open their tiny pink flowers for a short time only in the sunshine. At any stage they are mostly calyx, but in fruit this part is much expanded. Swollen, sticky joints are the plant’s means of defence from crawlers. Season: Summer.

When moths begin their rounds at dusk, the Night-flowering Catchfly (S. noctiflora) opens its pinkish or white flowers to emit a fragrance that guides them to a feast prepared for them alone. Day-blooming Catchflies have no perfume, nor do they need it ; their color and markings are a sufficient guide to the butterflies. Sticky hairs along the stems of this plant ruthlessly destroy, not flies, but ants chiefly, that would pilfer nectar without being able to render the flower any service. Yet the calyx is beautifully veined, as if to tantalize the crawlers by indicating the path to a banquet hall they may never reach. Only a very few flowers, an inch across or less, are clustered at the top of the plant, which blooms from July to September in waste places east of the Mississippi and in Canada.