This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - White, about 1/4 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 ft. tall, 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 spatu-late 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 (p. 93) 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 crossfertilization, 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 shrivelled 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 centre 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 incurved 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 shrivelled 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.