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.
As yet the Corn Cockle has not been met with in any Glacial or other early deposits. It is found in the Temperate Zone in Europe, Siberia, Western Asia, as far as Persia. It has been introduced into the United States. In every county of Great Britain will you find this plant except Mid Lanes, Stirling, Mid Perth, Westerness, Main Argyle, East and West Sutherland, Caithness, Hebrides, Shetlands. It was considered to be a colonist by Watson.
A district without Corn Cockles is as bad as one in which Red Campion is absent. Both are well-known country favourites. But while the last is found only on uncultivated ground, the Corn Cockle is essentially a follower of the plough, and is seldom found but in cornfields. But the seeds which are reaped with the corn when ripe get amongst fowl corn, being sifted into the offal or winnowing, and commonly appear in poultry runs, having been used for poultry corn.
The Corn Cockle is a rigid, tall, slender, repeatedly dividing, hollow-stemmed plant, very hairy, with swollen joints. The leaves are oblong, narrowly elliptic, keeled, at the base united, hairy both sides, with the longest hairs at the base.
The flowers are purple, they are not crowned and enclosed by longer linear green sepals, the petals being entire, and with long claws or stalks and with no scale on the blade. The flowers are single on long stalks. The capsule is 5-toothed, and the seeds have a shagreen surface, and are large, black, wedge-shaped or kidney-shaped with rows of points, the capsule being as large as an acorn.
The Corn Cockle is often 3 ft. in height. It flowers from June to July, and is an annual.
The nectaries are situated, as in Dianthus, at the bottom of a long, narrow tube, and from the position of the honey the flower is adapted to pollination by long-tongued Lepidoptera. The anthers ripen first, the stigma later, but occasionally together. In the order of development of the anthers (in some flowers there are no stamens) it resembles Dianthus also. Species of Silene and Lychnis have a relation to species of Dianthoecia (Noctuidae). The species pollinate Silene and Lychnis, and provide for their larvae, which feed entirely on unripe seeds of these plants, but Silene and Lychnis are pollinated by other insects besides. The visitors are Lepidoptera (Large Skipper (Hesperia silvanus), Large White (Pieris brassicce)), and Diptera (Syrphidae, Rhingia).
The seed of the plant is dispersed by the wind. The seeds are blown out of the open capsule, which opens by 5 - 10 teeth or valves, by the wind, and the stem being tall and rigid, they are jerked a long distance away.
It is a sand plant, and addicted to a sand soil.
The plant is infested by such fungi as Puccinia arenariae, P. lychnidearum, Asco-chyta Dianthi.
Githago, Tragus, is derived from the resemblance of its seeds to those of the plant called gith by the Romans, our fennel-flower. It is called Bachelor's Buttons, Corn Campion. Corn Cockle, Cockweed, Cornflower, Corn Pink, Drawk, Field Nigella, Gith, Gye, Hardhead, Nele, Papple or Pawple, Pink, Popille, Popple, Poppy Wild Savager. Field Nigella because it has a flower in structure like Nigella.
It clogs the millstones when used with corn. The seeds are used as a bird seed.
Essential Specific Characters: 51. Lychnis Githago, Scop. - Stem tall, wiry, dichotomous, flowers puce, calyx-lobes longer than the corolla, downy, petals entire, not crowned, capsule with large hard seeds.
Photo. Irving - Corn Cockle (Lychnis Githago, Scop.)