Silene coronaria

Bloody William Catch Fly Dusty-Miller Lampflower Mullein Pink Rose Campion

Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) is an old-fashioned favorite that adds brilliant color to the flower garden in shades of magenta, bright pink and white. Rose campion flowers look at home in cottage garden settings and more. Read on to learn more about these interesting plants.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Silene coronaria, the rose campion, is a species of flowering plant in the family Caryophyllaceae, native to Eurasia. Other common names include dusty miller (which also refers to Centaurea cineraria and Jacobaea maritima), mullein-pink and bloody William. In the United Kingdom it is still widely referenced under its synonym Lychnis coronaria.

It grows naturally on rocky, scrubby hillsides. The plants do well in rock gardens, xeriscaping, wildflower meadows and cottage gardens. The genus name ‘Lychnis’ (Greek for lamp), comes from the fact that the felt-like leaves were used as lamp wicks in olden days. The soft, pale, gray-green foliage makes the perfect backdrop for the brightly colored flowers, with each blossom lasting only a day. The foliage adds soft texture in the garden when the flowers are not in bloom. Flowers are sparse the first year but numerous in the second year. In the third year, the numbers of blossoms begin to decline, but they are eager reseeders that regenerate themselves every year.

It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, as has the white-flowered cultivar ‘Alba’.

II. How to Grow and Care

This perennial is easy to grow and adaptable to a variety of growing conditions. It reseeds readily, so deadheading spent blooms before they produce seed is a good idea if you don’t want it to spread throughout your garden.

Sunlight

Rose campion does very well in partial sun, or in full sun. It can have a tendency to dry out during a hot summer, so consider placing it in a spot with morning sun as opposed to afternoon sun. It will usually not bloom in full shade if it happens to re-seed there, so you can relocate any volunteers to a sunnier spot.

Temperature and Humidity

Rose campion is hardy to Zone 5, and may not make it through especially cold winters. However, if you’re in a reliable Zone 5 it should re-seed normally for you. Too much moisture in soil is not good for rose campion, but humid summers in temperate climates shouldn’t be a problem.

Watering

Rose campion is fairly drought tolerant once established, so is a good addition to a dry garden area. It has no special watering needs. Water according to your usual schedule in the cottage or perennial garden. If it gets a lot of bright sun during a heat wave, and shows signs of drooping or burning, you may have to give it a bit of extra water.

Soil

While it is not too fussy about soil, like most plants the rose campion does best in soil that is well drained. Avoid planting in wet areas, as this may cause the roots to rot.

Fertilizing

Fertilize the rose campion with a complete slow-release such as a 10-10-10 fertilizer. It can also be treated with an organic fertilizer. The rose campion can be treated in spring and summer.

Pruning

You’ll want to deadhead your rose campion to prevent it from reseeding (unless you want it to), and to remove the dead-looking flowers once the bloom season is done. The leaves provide attractive forms in the winter garden, so you may consider leaving them intact at the end of the season.

Propagation

Propagating Campion by division:

  • To propagate through division, wait until the spring when it’s time for repotting or replanting.
  • Prepare the new pot with a thin layer of moist soil and apply mulch.
  • Carefully divide the plant, separating at the roots.
  • Water and fertilize the young plants throughout the spring and summer.
  • While they may bloom the first year, they will most likely bloom the following summer.

If growing outdoors, plants will do better if moved or divided once every 3 years.

How to Grow from Seed

This is a plant that is seen less often in nurseries than it used to be, but seeds are still widely available. It’s relatively easy to grow from seed although you won’t see blooms until the second year. The seed needs cold stratification to be viable, so planting in fall can yield plants in spring. You can also direct sow in spring after the last frost date. In either case, sow the seeds by pressing lightly into soft damp soil. The seeds are tiny so watering them directly may wash them away; instead try misting them lightly with a sprayer. They need a fair bit of sunlight to germinate in spring, so consider the seasonal placement of the sun in your garden when planting.

You can also grow rose campion seeds indoors, just remember to cold stratify before you plant them.

Overwintering

Rose campion is known as a short-lived perennial (much like other varieties of dianthus) or a biennial, so it may not return year to year in your garden unless it reseeds. It can reseed easily in the garden under the right conditions, and has the potential to become invasive, popping up unexpectedly. Normally it will reseed in the same general area where it is growing, but if you scatter seed in autumn it may reseed in spring.

Pests and Diseases

Rose campion is very resistant to diseases and pests, making it a carefree addition to your flower bed. If you have problems with deer snacking on your perennial garden, you’ll be pleased to hear that deer don’t enjoy eating rose campion. It’s also not tempting to mice, moles, squirrels, rabbits or other rodents.

III. Types of Rose Campion

There are a number of cultivars available, including a double-flowered version. Some of these may be difficult to find. The gardens at Monticello sell a mix of seeds that contain several cultivars.

  • ‘Abbotsford Rose’: A rose-colored variety popular in England where it was discovered.
  • ‘Alba’: This is a white-flowered version that adds a serene coolness to your cottage garden, or is a stellar addition to your moon garden or all-white garden.
  • ‘Angel Blush’: This bicolor variety has white flowers with an orchid-pink blush in the center, which varies in size and intensity of color. There are seeds available from several online sellers.
  • ‘Astrosanguinea’: Rich magenta flowers and very pale foliage that looks almost white; the “classic” rose campion.
  • ‘Dancing Ladies’: These display a mix of white and carmine red, and a darker red eye.
  • ‘Flora Plena’: A beautiful double-flowered variety with blooms of deep magenta.
  • ‘Oculata’: A white flower with a rose pink or magenta “eye” that may make the flowers look pale pink from a distance.

IV. Uses and Benefits 

  • Artistic Value

Chinese poets wrote many poems in praise of rose campion’s character.

  • Ornamental uses

Rose campion works well planted in perennial borders, rock gardens, wildflower meadows, or cottage gardens due to its short stature and solid growth.

Plant around the edge of a flower bed or window boxes, with taller plants behind the Campion.

To bring more color into the house, keep the plant indoors in a cool spot throughout the spring.

Try it alongside nigella, bellflowers, phlox and yarrow in your cottage garden. The leaves form a basal rosette form, similar to lambs’ ear, but differs in that the blooms do not discolor after they peak which is common with betony (lambs’ ear).

Silene coronaria Details

Common name Bloody William Catch Fly Dusty-Miller Lampflower Mullein Pink Rose Campion
Botanical name Silene coronaria
Plant type Herbaceous Perennial
Hardiness zone 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b
Growth rate Medium
Harvest time Fall
Height 2 ft. 0 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
Width 2 ft. 0 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Soil condition Clay
Flower color Pink
Leaf color Gray/Silver