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White campion close 700.jpg
Silene latifolia (white campion)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Caryophyllaceae
Genus: Silene

Silene is a genus of flowering plants in the family Caryophyllaceae. Containing nearly 900 species,[1] it is the largest genus in the family.[2] Common names include campion and catchfly. Many Silene species are widely distributed, particularly in the northern hemisphere.[2]


Silene was originally described by Linnaeus.[1] Silene is the feminine form of Silenus, a Greek woodland deity.[3] Divisions of the genus into subgenera or sections before 2003 do not seem to be well-supported by molecular evidence.[2]

The genus Lychnis is closely related to and sometimes considered separate from Silene,[4][5] differing in the flowers having five styles (three in Silene), the seed capsule having five teeth (six in Silene), and in the sticky stems of Lychnis. Common names include campion and catchfly, the latter name based on the sticky stems.

Selected species[edit]

Silene flos-cuculi (ragged robin)
Silene gallica var. quinquevulnera

When the related genera Lychnis, Melandrium, and Viscaria are included in Silene, it contains about 900 species.[1]

Species include:


The lychnis is also the common name of Hadena bicruris, a species of noctuid moth. The larva of this moth feeds on Silene (formerly Lychnis) species, as do some other Lepidoptera including cabbage moth (recorded on Silene chalcedonica), grey chi and case-bearers of the genus Coleophora including C. albella (feeds exclusively on Silene flos-cuculi) and C. leucapennella.


Many species of Silene are in cultivation for perennial gardens.[13] Some have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit, including Silene flos-jovis and Silene schafta.[14]

Silene undulata (syn. S. capensis) is known as iindlela zimhlophe ("white paths") by the Xhosa of South Africa. A Xhosa diviner identifies and collects the plant from the wild. The roots are ground, mixed with water, and beaten to a froth, which is consumed by novice diviners during the full moon to influence their dreams. They also take it to prepare for various rituals. The root has such a strong, musky essence that the diviners who consume it exude the scent in their sweat.[15]

Scientific history[edit]

Members of this genus have been the subject of research by preeminent plant ecologists, evolutionary biologists, and geneticists, including Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, Carl Correns, Herbert G. Baker, and Janis Antonovics. Many Silene species continue to be widely used to study systems, particularly in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology.[16] The genus has been used as a model for understanding the genetics of sex determination for over a century. Silene species commonly contain a mixture of hermaphroditic and female (or male-sterile) individuals (gynodioecy), and early studies by Correns showed that male sterility could be maternally inherited,[17][18] an example of what is now known as cytoplasmic male sterility. Two independent groups of species in Silene have evolved separate male and female sexes (dioecy) with chromosomal sex determination that is analogous to the system found in humans and other mammals.[19][20] Silene flowers are frequently visited by flies, such as Rhingia campestris.[21] Silene species have also been used to study speciation, host-pathogen interactions, biological species invasions, adaptation to heavy-metal-contaminated soils, metapopulation genetics, and organelle genome evolution.[16] Notably, some members of the genus Silene hold the distinction of harboring the largest mitochondrial genomes ever identified.[22]

Fossil record[edit]

Silene microsperma fossil seeds of the Chattian stage, Oligocene, are known from the Oberleichtersbach Formation in the Rhön Mountains, central Germany.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d "Silene L." Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  2. ^ a b c "36. Silene Linnaeus". Flora of North America.
  3. ^ Quattrocchi, U. CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names. 1999. 4: 2482. ISBN 0-8493-2678-8
  4. ^ Europaea: Lychnis
  5. ^ Flora of China: Lychnis
  6. ^ Silene undulata Aiton. SANBI Red List of South African Plants.
  7. ^ Aksoy, Ahmet; Hamzaoğlu, Ergin; Kiliç, Semra (2008-12-01). "A new species of Silene L. (Caryophyllaceae) from Turkey". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 158 (4): 731. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.2008.00922.x. ISSN 1095-8339.
  8. ^ a b Country Study for Biodiversity of the Republic of Macedonia (First National Report. Skopje: Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning. 2003. ISBN 978-9989-110-15-3.
  9. ^ English Names for Korean Native Plants (PDF). Pocheon: Korea National Arboretum. 2015. p. 637. ISBN 978-89-97450-98-5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 May 2017. Retrieved 16 December 2016 – via Korea Forest Service.
  10. ^ United States Department of Agriculture (2011). "Silene ovata Pursh". USDA Plants Website. Retrieved 2011-11-18.
  11. ^ Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (2001). "Silene paeoniensis". Flora Europaea Website. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  12. ^ "List of rare, threatened and endemic plants in Europe (1982 edition". COUNCIL OF EUROPE. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  13. ^ "Silene". Better Homes & Gardens. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  14. ^ "Results > Search for AGM plants / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  15. ^ Hirst, M. (2005). Dreams and medicines: The perspective of Xhosa diviners and novices in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology 5(2) 1-22.
  16. ^ a b Bernasconi et al. 2009. Silene as a model system in ecology and evolution. Heredity. 103:5-14. PMID 19367316
  17. ^ Correns C. 1906. Die vererbung der Geshlechstsformen bei den gynodiocischen Pflanzen. Ber. Dtsch Bot. Ges. 24: 459–474.
  18. ^ Correns C. 1908. Die rolle der mannlichen Keimzellen bei der Geschlechtsbestimmung der gynodioecishen Pflanzen. Ber. Dtsch Bot. Ges. 26A: 626–701.
  19. ^ Evolution of Sex Chromosomes: The Case of the White Campion. PLoS Biol 3(1): e28. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030028
  20. ^ Mrackova M. et al. 2008. Independent origin of sex chromosomes in two species of the genus Silene. 179(2): 1129–1133. PMID 18558658
  21. ^ Van Der Kooi, C. J.; Pen, I.; Staal, M.; Stavenga, D. G.; Elzenga, J. T. M. (2015). "Competition for pollinators and intra-communal spectral dissimilarity of flowers". Plant Biology. 18 (1): 56–62. doi:10.1111/plb.12328. PMID 25754608.
  22. ^ Sloan DB et al. 2012. Rapid Evolution of Multichromosomal Genomes in Flowering Plant Mitochondria with Exceptionally High Mutation Rates. PLoS Biol. 10: e1001241. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001241
  23. ^ The floral change in the tertiary of the Rhön mountains (Germany) by Dieter Hans Mai - Acta Paleobotanica 47(1): 135-143, 2007.