Red Campion, Botanical name Silene dioica

Silene derives from the Greek word “sialon”, which means saliva, in reference to the gummy substance the plant secretes. 

Red Campion, Silene dioica
Red Campion, Silene dioica

“Dioica” in Greek means “of two houses”. This refers to the plant having male and female flowers on separate plants. This is known as dioecious.

The sticky frothy foam can be felt on the stems, and female flowers only. This helps catch pollen from visiting insects.

The plant is of medium height, with downy stems and leaves. The pink / red flowers each have five petals, and are a common sight in many parts of the UK, growing in hedgerows, roadside verges and grassy banks. The plant is popular with butterflies, bees and other pollinators.

This plant is non-edible, due to it’s high saponin content. Related to “Soapwort”, it’s roots used to be simmered in water. The water was then used to wash delicate linen.

In Victorian floriography (language of flowers) red campion symbolises gentleness.

It’s only traditional medical use was that of crushed seeds to treat snakebites. (has been called Adder’s flower).

Red Campion is not known for it’s practical uses. 

It is a plant with strong links to myths and mysticism. The aged, Greek, drunken god of the woodlands, Silenus, has been associated with Red Campion. Folklore tells that red campion flowers guard bees’ honey stores, which were shared with fairies, as well as protecting fairies from being discovered. It is known as “Fairy flower” in the Isle of Man, and there is a taboo against picking the flowers. It is also known as Batchelors’ buttons which suggests it was once worn as a buttonhole by young unmarried men. In Cumberland it is known as “Mother-die”. It is said that if children pick the flowers, their parents suffer! Other names are numerous, but include Cuckoo flower, Devil’s flower, Drunkards, Fleabites, Gipsy-flower, Robin-in-the-hedge and Red Mintchop. 

This plant is in flower, somewhere in the Sidmouth locality, in every month of every year, unless the weather is extreme. The fairies have been well protected!

Simon Papworth

Here’s a cheerful somebody,
By the woodland’s edge;
Campion the many-named,
Coming when the bluebells come,
When they’re gone, he stays,
(Round Robin, Red Robin)
All the summer days.

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