Do you recognize this plant? No, it’s not Cardinal Flower–that doesn’t bloom until August. This is Royal Catchfly (Silene regia), a rare plant in the Chicago area–indeed, it is endangered in Illinois.
Fortunately, it is readily available from native plant nurseries as plugs or seeds.
The above photo was taken last week in a client’s garden and as you can see, it is thriving spectacularly. I combined it with Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum), a fine companion.
Striking scarlet stars bloom on the top half of the 3-4‘ tall, unbranched stems from mid-July to the end of August. The blossoms emerge from long, tubular, pale green, sticky, hairy, ribbed calyces that trap insects–hence, the common name, Catchfly.
Red is rare in the prairie, because bees cannot see the color. Butterflies–especially Black Swallowtail–are, however, attracted to it, as are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.
Here it is in the prairie garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
I invite you to read about the plant community in which it was found growing: “a fine railroad prairie near Haskell” in LaPorte County, Indiana, as recorded by Swink and Wilhelm in Plants of the Chicago Region--31 species, in all. It’s on page 700.
Oh, OK–I’ll give you some of the list. I would use this list as a guide If I were starting a new garden featuring Silene regia: Lead Plant, New Jersey Tea, Heath Aster, Stiff Coreopsis, Rattlesnake Master, Prairie Smoke, Rough Blazing Star, Wild Quinine, Purple and White Prairie Clover, Culver’s Root, and Little Bluestem. Make Little Bluestem at least 1/3 of the planting. Plant this in a full sun, dry-mesic to mesic situation.
Wouldn’t it be fun to drive over to Haskell, Indiana, to see this fine railroad prairie? The railroad, unfortunately, concluded those gorgeous plants were weeds and herbicided them, according to Jerry Wilhelm. Now, of course, the area is filled with real weeds and needs to be herbicided every year. All they had to do, again states Jerry, was burn the little prairie every year at almost no cost and the beautiful forbs and grasses would have lasted there forever.