(Silene stellata) Pink family
Flowers - White, about 1/2 in. broad or over, loosely clustered
in a showy, pyramidal panicle. Calyx bell-shaped, swollen,
5-toothed, sticky; 5 fringed and clawed petals; 10 long, exserted
stamens; 3 styles. Stem: Erect, leafy, 2 to 3 1/2
rough-hairy. Leaves: Oval, tapering to a point, 2 to 4 in. long,
seated in whorls of 4 around stem, or loose ones opposite.
Preferred Habitat - Woods, shady banks.
Flowering Season - June-August.
Distribution - Rhode Island westward to Mississippi, south to the
Carolinas and Arkansas.
Feathery white panicles of the starry campion, whose protruding
stamens and fringed petals give it a certain fleeciness, are
dainty enough for spring; by midsummer we expect plants of ranker
growth and more gaudy flowers. To save the nectar in each deep
tube for the moths and butterflies which cross-fertilize all this
tribe of night and day blossoms, most of them - and the campions
are notorious examples - spread their calices, and some their
pedicels as well, with a sticky substance to entrap little
crawling pilferers. Although a popular name for the genus is
catchfly, it is usually the ant that is glued to the viscid
parts, for the fly that moves through the air alights directly on
the flower it is too short-lipped to suck. An ant catching its
feet on the miniature lime-twig, at first raises one foot after
another and draws it through its mouth, hoping to rid it of the
sticky stuff, but only with the result of gluing up its head and
other parts of the body. In ten minutes all the pathetic
struggles are ended. Let no one guilty of torturing flies to
death on sticky paper condemn the Silenes!
The BLADDER CAMPION (S. vulgaris; S. inflata of Gray) to be
recognized by its much inflated calyx, especially round in fruit,
the two-cleft white petals; and its opposite leaves that are
spatulate at the base of the plant, is a European immigrant now
naturalized and locally very common from Illinois eastward to New
Jersey and north to New Brunswick. Like the night-flowering
catchfly this blossom has adapted itself to the night-flying
moths; but when either remains open in the morning, bumblebees
gladly take the leavings in the deep cup. To insure
cross-fertilization, some of the bladder-campion flowers have
stamens only, some have a pistil only; some have both organs
maturing at different times. In all the night-flowering Silene,
each flower, unless unusually disturbed, lasts three days and
three nights. Late in the afternoon of the first day, when the
petals begin to expand, the five stamens opposite the sepals
lengthen in about two hours, and by sunset the anthers, which
have matured at the same time, are covered with pollen. So they
remain until the forenoon of the second day, and then the emptied
anthers hang like shriveled bags, or drop off altogether. Late in
the second afternoon, the second set of stamens repeat the
actions of their predecessors, bend backward and shed their
anthers the following, that is to say the third, morning. But on
the third afternoon up rise the S-shaped, twisted stigmas, which
until now had been hidden in the center of the flower. Moths,
therefore, must transfer pollen from younger to older blossoms.
"With this lengthening and bending of the stamens and stigmas,"
says Dr. Kerner, "goes hand in hand the opening and shutting of
the corolla. With the approach of dusk, the bifid limbs of the
petals spread out in a flat surface and fall back against the
calyx. In this position they remain through the night, and not
till the following morning do they begin (more quickly in
sunshine and with a mild temperature, more slowly with a cloudy
sky and in cold, wet weather) to curl themselves up in an
in-curved spire, while at the same time they form longitudinal
creases, and look as though they were gathered in, or
wrinkled;...but no sooner does evening return than the wrinkles
disappear, the petals become smooth, uncurl themselves, and fall
back upon the calyx, and the corolla is again expanded."
Curiously enough, these flowers, which by day we should certainly
say were not fragrant, give forth a strong perfume at evening the
better to guide moths to their feast. From eight in the evening
until three in the morning the fragrance is especially strong.
The white blossoms, so conspicuous at night, have little
attraction for color-loving butterflies and bees by day; then, as
there is no pollen to be carried from the shriveled anther sacs,
no visitor is welcome, and the petals close to protect the nectar
for the flower's true benefactors. Indeed, few flowers show more
thorough adaptation to the night-flying moths than these Silene.
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