Red Campion

Red Campion is at its most vibrant from the spring into summer. Find it in woodland edges, hedgerows and roadside verges.

Photo: Steve Townsend

Scientific name: Silene dioica

Other common names: Adder’s flower, Robin Hood, Cuckooflower (the last not to be confused with other plants of the same common name)

What to look for:

Family: Caryophyllaceae (Campion family)
Flowers: Five red-pink petals, deeply notched
Leaves and stem: Leaves are opposite and lanceolate. The branching stems and leaves are downy
Height: Up to 1 m
Where: Prefers base-rich soils and light shade, so favours woodland, hedgerows, verges, and roadsides
When: Flowers April to July (but can be seen in other seasons)
Habit: Upright, creeping rhizomes

They should be coming into flower as the Bluebells end their display, but on The Lizard it’s not uncommon to see Red Campion blooming alongside their woodland cousins, making for a striking display.

Although this perennial dies back in the autumn, it’s also not unusual to see a few of its blossoms struggling on into the colder months, especially in our milder south-west climate. That’s good news for any bees, moths and butterflies that are also still around later in the year, as Red Campion is a good source of nectar. According to folklore, bees may like the plant for a different reason, as the Red Campion was thought to help bees protect their stores of honey.

The species is dioecious, meaning it bears male and female flowers on different plants. The seeds are produced from mid-summer, in a capsule behind the flower.

Did you know…?

…Red Campion is an indicator plant of ancient woodland.

…Cuckooflower, one of the (less-used) common names of Red Campion, is the alternative name for at least a dozen spring flowers, presumably because they start to bloom as the first cuckoos arrive from over the sea in spring.

More information and references:

Mabey, R., 1997. Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus, London.

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Published: April 2020
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Upper: Steve Townsend; lower: Amanda Scott