Living on our five acres of relatively healthy southeastern Piedmont land brings occasional floral and faunal surprises. After the massive flooding of Hurricane Fran a decade ago, I spied a River Otter sunbathing on a log in my creek. That was a one-time surprise.
A more reliable surprise is the blooming of the Fire Pinks (Silene virginica) every year in my back yard. I didn’t plant them; they were here when we got here, growing on a slightly eroding, west-facing hillside — the opposite side of the slope down to the creek where the Blood Roots reign every spring.
These crimson show-stoppers are impossible to miss when they’re in bloom, and pretty much invisible the rest of the time. Basal rosettes of leaves keep a low profile until it’s time to send up bloom stalks. These wildflowers are described in my books as short-lived perennials, so I’m assuming that the 20+ years of Fire Pink blooms that we’ve had are due to the flowers self-sowing on their own. I certainly haven’t tried to interfere with them in any way.
My books tell me they tend to be weak-stemmed, but I think that’s only if you try to pamper them by putting them in good garden soil. They naturally occur on rocky slopes in dappled shade, which is exactly where mine have thrived all these years.
Fire Pinks are considered to be in the Catchfly genus, which refers to the sticky hairs on their flowers. These are thought to be adaptations for slowing down non-pollinating insects. I’m guessing their preferred pollinators hover, rather than land on the booby-trapped petals.
If you look at one up close, you can see why these bright red flowers are called Fire Pinks. The Pink refers to the serrated edges on the petals, as if someone had taken pinking shears to their edges. See what I mean here:
If you click on the above photo to see a bigger image, you can really see the serrated edges of the petals.
I think they are lovely little wildflowers, and they need no help from me to flourish. I’ve seen them growing on steep hills along back roads that aren’t mowed often. And for my benign neglect, I am rewarded with crimson Fire Pinks just as summer begins to sizzle — a floral surprise I enjoy every year.