This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
This plant has been met with in Neolithic beds at Fife. It is found to-day in the Temperate Zone in Europe, N. Africa, Siberia, Western Asia. It has been introduced in the United States.
In Great Britain it is absent from Worcester, and in S. Wales in Radnor. In N. Wales it occurs only in Carnarvon, Denbigh, Flint, and Anglesea. It is absent from Mid Lanes, Isle of Man, Peebles, Selkirk, Roxburgh, and in E. Highlands in Mid Perth, in W. Highlands in Main Argyle, Mid and North Ebudes, Caithness, Orkneys and Shetlands.
The night-flowering or White Campion is undoubtedly a follower of cultivation, for it is specially characteristic of the cornfield, where it is abundant and well-established. Not infrequently it will be found in place of its allied species, the Red Campion, lining the hedgerow in a district where corn is, or has been, largely grown, but it is on arable land that it is most conspicuous and at home.
This is a tall, smooth or hairy, graceful, slender plant, with egg-shaped, narrowly elliptical leaves, very similar in habit to the Red Campion, usually growing in scattered groups in cornfields or hedgerows, not in massive clumps like the latter. It is slightly clammy.
The flowers are white, and open completely at night, from six o'clock till nine next morning, when they droop, except in dull weather, when they are fragrant. The petals are divided halfway into two parts, the lobes approaching and broad, crowned, and the calyx teeth are long and linear, narrowly elliptical. The capsule is conical with 10 erect straight teeth, and no divisions. The seeds are small and numerous.
The plants are dioecious, stamens and pistils occurring on different plants as a rule, or there may be three forms - male, female, and bisexual.
White Campion grows 2 ft. high, and is in flower in June and July. It is perennial and propagated by division.
In fertile pistillate or female flowers the honey glands are placed 20-25 mm. from the entrance in the fleshy part of the ovary, in barren staminate or male flowers at 15 - 18 mm. The upper part of the calyx in both forms is narrower. It is necessary for the insect to force this narrow passage with its head, and honey cannot be reached except by insects with a proboscis 15 - 20 mm. long. The flowers open in the evening (hence vespertina, another name), and are pure white, suitable for crepuscular or evening visits. The stamens and pistil vary in length.
Of the diurnal or day visitors only pollen - seekers could obtain anything. It is thus adapted to night-fliers. The anthers ripen two at a time. The Elephant Hawk moth visits it and cross-pollinates it.
The seeds of White Campion are dispersed by the wind like many of the Caryophyllaceae. The capsule or seed vessel opens at the top when ripe, and allows the seeds to be hurled to a distance by the wind or when the stem is shaken by passing animals.
Photo.,. J. H. Crabtrce - White Campion (Lychnis alba, Mill.)
it is a sand-loving plant, requiring primarily a sand soil, which is furnished by very different rock formations, the older Palaeozoic, and even Oolitic or Cretaceous formations.
Two fungi, Ascochvta cookei and Ustilago violacea, infest this plant, but no insects.
The name Lychnis, Theophrastus, is from the Greek lychnos, lamp, in reference to the cottony substance on some species being used for lamp wicks. Alba refers to the white flowers.
It is called Bachelor's Buttons, White Bachelors Buttons, Bull-rattle, White Campion, Cowmack, Cow-rattle, Cuckoo Mower (White Wild), Grandmother's Nightcap, Plum-puddings, White Robin, Snake's flower, Thunder Bolts, Thunder-flower.
Essential Specific Characters: 48. Lychnis alba, Mill. - Stem tall, branched above, leaves oblong, downy, flowers white, fragrant at night, petals 2-cleft, calyx-teeth linear, capsule conical.