Red campion (Silene dioica) is a fairly variable plant which typically shows a bright pink or red flower but which may also be white. This latter fact makes it almost indistinguishable from White campion with which it may also hybridise and create plants which form pale pink flowers. Red campion is unscented while White campion has a very slight fragrance, particularly in the evenings.
Along with so many other native British flowers it has a variety of common names which vary from region to region – ‘Soldier’s buttons’, ‘Robin-in-the-hedge’ and ‘Red Robin Hood being just some of the titles used.
Red campion is found throughout the British Isles and is extremely abundant in certain areas while noticeably rare or even absent in others. It is found in Scotland up to 1100 metres and elsewhere its distribution stretches to much of Europe and also North Africa and western Asia. The plant prefers damp and non-acid soils but can sometimes tolerate other conditions. It is found almost anywhere that wild plants grow including deciduous woodland, hedgerows, banks and verges, cliffs, screes and scrubland.
According to ‘Beautiful Britain’, an organisation dedicated to supplying learning resources for Britain’s flora and fauna, it often occurs at the liminal points which mark newly ploughed farming land and deciduous woodland.
The plant has a wide flowering season and although typically blooming from May to October it can be found almost all year round particularly in the south-western counties of England.
The hairy stems are usually between one to two feet tall but may reach up to three feet. The simple ovate leaves, which grow up to 8 cm long, are untoothed and carried in opposite pairs along the stem and typically have deep grooves or veins. The basal leaves of the plant are usually stalked while upper leaves are carried on very short stalks or are completely without stalks.
The flowers of the Red campion each have five separate petals but these are so deeply grooved that they give the appearance of numbering more. Flower size is usually between 18 to 25 mm but sometimes larger flowers of 30mm will develop and male and female flowers are formed on separate plants.
The sepals of this plant form a very distinctive calyx which appears to be very delicate and papery. This tube or sac can be of variable colour and also shape, sometimes almost spherical while on other plants it forms a longer, rounded ‘bag’.
Once the plant has finished flowering the decorative seed heads will remain on the dead plant and provide wintering hibernation for ladybirds.