Silene dioica

Taxonomy 

Latin name: Silene dioica (L.) Clairv.

Synonyms:

  • Lychnis dioica
  • Lychins diurna
  • Melandrium rubrum
  • Melandrium dioicum

Common name: Red Campion Family: Caryophyllaceae. It can hybridise with S. latifolia, White Campion.

Chromosome No.: 2n = 24 (Stace 2010).

Silene dioica

Flower damaged by a robber bee.

Photography: J. Memmott

Distribution 

It can be found in most parts of the British Isles. It is also found through most of Europe, northwards to the Faeroes and Spitzbergen, Central Asia, North Africa, Greenland, and introduced in North America (Clapham et al. 1987).

BSBI Hectad Map 

Click on the map to view full-size on the BSBI Maps Scheme website.

Ecology 

Red Campion can be found growing in deciduous woodland, woodland margins and clearings, hedgerows and banks. It prefers fertile, base-rich or calcareous soils. It can also grow on cliffs and has been found growing as high up as 1,070 m in Scotland.

Red Campion is a biennial or perennial herb. It is dioecious and relies heavily on insects for transfer of pollen. The main flowering season is during May and June (Clapham et al. 1987).

The flowers have a long tube with nectar at the bottom. Insects with long tongues or slender bodies can reach inside the flower tubes to gain nectar, and in doing so will come into contact with the stigmas or stamens.

Interestingly, Red Campion can suffer from a smut fungus which infects the anthers of male flowers. This anther smut disease can be transmitted by insects as it visits the flowers to collect nectar, and can clearly be seen as the anthers became dark grey or black.

Most insect visitors to Red Campion have long tongues or slender bodies and can reach the nectar through the flower tube in the normal way. The short tongued bumblebee Bombus terrestris cannot reach nectar in this way. However, B. terrestris has found a way to exploit these flowers. By chewing a hole near the base of the flower tube, the bee can insert its proboscis into the flower to extract nectar. The hole can be seen as a small curved scar and can remain for the life of that flower. This process is described as nectar robbery, and goes against the usual mutual relationship we expect between flowers and pollinators. The effects of robbery can often have a negative impact on the reproductive success of a plant.

Around the world, many species of insects and birds demonstrate nectar robbery on many plant species. Little is known about the system in the UK involving Red Campion and its robber. Current research at the University of Bristol is trying to understand more about the patterns of robbery in Red Campion, including knowing more about the levels of robbery across the British Isles.

Silene dioica

A bee caught in the act.

Photography: M. Austin

Status 
  • Origin: Native
  • Rarity: Red Campion is common through much of the British Isles, but scarce in East Anglia, northern Scotland, and much of Ireland.
  • Threat:not threatened.
  • Conservation: it has no conservation status or legal protection.
Further Work 

In the UK alone, many plant species show evidence of nectar robbery. By understanding the impacts and patterns associated with robbery of Red Campion in the UK further study may be extended to other plant species, including those of conservation concern or invasive species.

Nic Charlton at the University of Bristol is looking for volunteers to aid in a national survey of nectar robbery on Red Campion. Volunteers are asked to help with the collection of data by following the instructions below to determine the level of robbery where they live. The aim is to get a picture of levels of robbery in Red Campion across the British Isles. Are there areas which have no robbery? Is there a pattern to the levels of robbery? Are high levels of robbery more likely in the south or north? Does your region show high or low levels of robbery? By contributing, you would be adding to current research which will be used to better understand this most intriguing phenomenon.

Below are the instructions for collecting the data. The minimum equipment required is a pen and paper, and it only takes a few minutes per patch of Red Campion. Each patch of Red Campion counts as a single result. You need to be able to recognise Red Campion and be able to see flowers close up to look for signs of robbery. The main flowering season for red campion is during May and June.

Please email results to Nic.Charlton@bristol.ac.uk

1. Find a patch of Red Campion flowers and count the number of open flowers as accurately as you can. Record this as 'number in patch'. For very large or long patches, an estimate to the nearest 10 is sufficient. Ignore small patches of less than 30 flowers.

2. Choose any 30 representative flowers, ideally choose flowers that are spread across the patch, and check for signs of robbery (see the photos of robbed flowers). Record the number of robbed and unrobbed flowers. e.g. 25 robbed 5 unrobbed.

3. From the list below, choose a habitat which best describes where the patch is found, selecting from:

  • Woodland
  • Woodland edge
  • Hedgerow
  • Grassland
  • Other, please describe

4. List any other common flowers close to the red campion.

5. Please state the location of where the patch was recorded, e.g. A postcode, grid reference or address, and the date you checked the flowers.

References 
  • Garrard, I. & Streeter, D. 1988, The Wild Flowers of the British Isles, Midsummer Books, London, UK.
Citation 
Charlton, N.L. (date accessed). Species account: Silene dioica. Botanical Society of the British Isles. www.bsbi.org.uk.

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