Leonard discovered an interesting, extremely sticky plant in our east pasture (Modoc County CA), one I do not recall ever seeing on our property before. He brought in a sample, but the petals were already wilted by the time he walked back from the field. Yesterday Leonard took me out to photograph the plants – I would never have found it amid the forty acres of tall grass in that pasture on verbal directions alone. While there I decided to photograph two other “sticky” plants that are currently in bloom. Here come three “tacky” posts.
Catchflies are members of the pink family, which has more than 2,000 species throughout the world, mostly in northern temperate areas. Pinks have floral parts in fives – five petals, five sepals. The leaves are usually opposite and the petals notched.
The catchfly in our pasture is the western fringe catchfly (Silene nuda), also commonly known as a naked campion. A perennial, native to and found almost exclusively in California, Oregon and Washington, this catchfly inhabits the sage scrub and ponderosa forests from 4,000 to 6,000 feet.
The pink petals of western fringe catchfly are deeply two-lobed. The lance-shaped leaves are stalkless and the lower pairs are joined at the base. Except for the petals, the entire plant is hairy and glandular – very, very sticky. The brown seeds are contained in a capsule which is borne within the calyx (united sepals). When the capsule matures, it curls back at the top creating a cup or chalice bearing the seeds, which then spill out when the cup is tipped. I love the seed cup and think it looks as pretty as the flower in bloom.
The genus name, Silene, comes from the Latin “sialon” which means “saliva” and refers to the sticky hairs covering the entire catchfly plant. The sticky hairs act like flypaper, giving rise to the common name. I cannot emphasize how tacky catchflies are. I had a gummy substance all over my hands and camera.
The western fringe catchfly it is a lovely plant – just do not touch! I am looking forward to returning in the winter to see the catchfly when it dries. The remains will have their own unique beauty.