Fire Pink (Silene virginica) – Complete Grow & Care Guide


One of the most underappreciated native flowers has got to be Fire Pink. This compact wildflower can actually be used similarly to common small annuals in landscaping, as it is compact and blooms for a long time. I’ve created my own little patch with this flower, and will share with you all that I’ve learned germinating the seeds and caring for this lovely red flower.

In this article:

What is Fire Pink?

Fire Pink is a herbaceous short-lived perennial flower native to North America. Scientifically known as Silene virginica, it will grow 6″-24″ tall in full sun and well-draining soil. Blooming for roughly six weeks in Spring, it’s beautiful dark red flowers are great for attracting hummingbirds.

One of Fire Pink’s common names, Scarlet Catchfly, comes from the sticky & fine hairs that line it’s stalk, which can trap certain insects. It is thought that this evolutionary feature is to stop ants from reaching the nectar contained in the flowers.

Native Range

Fire Pink has a presence in most of Eastern North America. Although it still can be difficult to locate in the wild.

Native Range of Fire Pink. Click on the image to enlarge.

Reference Table

Scientific NameSilene virginica
Common Name(s)Fire Pink, Scarlet Catchfly, Fire Pink Catchfly, Indian Pink
Native Range, USDA ZoneEastern North America / Hardiness Zone 4-9
Bloom TimeSpring/Summer
Bloom Duration, ColorSix weeks, Red
Height6″-2′ (15 cm – 60 cm)
Spacing / Spread9″-18″ (20-40 cm)
Light RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Soil TypesSandy, Loam, Clay
MoistureDry to medium
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsHummingbirds, Butterflies

What are the Benefits of Fire Pink

Compact

The compact size of Fire Pink makes it an amazing native landscaping plant. If you have formal mulched flower beds, then this is a native plant that should be included.

The size is similar to common exotic annuals that are widely sold and used in landscaping. But, now you can utilize this beautiful native plant!

Beautiful

There are not many native flowers that have such a deep red color. Despite the small size, Fire Pink is gorgeous to look at and has a long bloom-time.

Hummingbirds

Like other dark red flowers, Fire Pink will attract hummingbirds to your garden. The more you plant, the more likely you are to see a hummingbird.

Identification and Characteristics of Fire Pink

Stalk

Fire Pink will grow from 6″ to 2′ tall, and in general will be erect. It will branch at the base creating a somewhat shapely appearance. Stems are smooth to covered in fine, short hairs. At the top will be a ‘cyme’, where the stem splits into several smaller branches to produce the flower.

Leaf

The leaves at the base of the plant are grow about 6″ long by 1″ wide. Somewhat lance shaped and dark green in color with smooth margins.

Leaves along the stalk are opposite (paired) and oblong to lanceolate in shape, and much smaller.

Flower

The flower of Fire Pink is small, about 1″ long by 1.25″ diameter. There are five large petals that are forked at the end. The bulk of the length of the flower is made up by it’s calyx, which is the tube from the stalk to the petals.

There is also a ring of erect petals near the center of the flower, which is one of those beautiful little features nature adds that can seem a bit mysterious.

Root

The root system of Fire Pink is that of a taproot with lots of finely haired fibrous roots. When I first transplanted Fire Pink from a pot to ground, I was amazed at how dense these roots were.

Natural Habitat

In the wild you could find Fire Pink growing in older mature forests in soils that drain well, meadows, or rocky ledges (such as Appalachia or the Ozarks). [1] Many sources note that populations are not always stable, and may increase or decrease with changing forest light conditions, or combinations of soil type + light.

Fire Pink has been documented to naturally hybridize with other species of Silene, if they are grown in close proximity. [2]

So, if you are to grow Fire Pink in your own landscaping, be prepared to sow seed each year to help maintain population levels unless you see that your plants live long and sustain themselves through self-seeding.

Grow and Care for Fire Pink

Sunlight Requirements

Fire Pink prefers full sun, which is at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. But it can tolerate partial shade, which is 4-6 hours of sunlight per day.

Soil Requirements

Fire Pink is not picky in regards to types of soil! It will grow in sandy, rocky, or even clay soil. Just make sure the soil drains well.

Moisture Requirements

Fire Pink will do best in dry to medium-moist sites. It is drought tolerant and should not require supplemental watering.

Fire Pink is not suitable for moist areas or in a rain garden.

Fertilizer

Fire Pink should not require any supplemental fertilizer. If you feel the need to do something, perhaps just toss a handful of compost in the bottom of the hole when transplanting out seedlings.

How to Grow Fire Pink from Seed

Growing Fire Pink from seed is not difficult as long as the seed gets access to sunlight, and is stratified or winter-sowed.

But, researchers have found that germinating Fire Pink seed can be tricky, with germination rates varying wildly [4]. So, I will present you with the steps I took that were successful, with a healthy germination rate.

I strongly recommend winter-sowing in December/January, as then you can be certain the plants will receive the necessary cold treatment. Furthermore winter sowing is mimicking mother nature better than stratifying in the refrigerator.

Guide to sowing Fire Pink Seed

  1. Fill a container with moist potting soil
  2. Press seeds firmly into the soil. Seeds need exposure to sunlight to germinate.
    • Sow heavily, as studies I reference below have found germination rates to be 20%-50%
  3. Place container in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade
  4. Germination will occur when the conditions are correct (temp/time)

Additionally, you can direct sow the seed in disturbed soil. Firmly press seed into the soil in Autumn. Seed should germinate the following Spring. Do note that birds and rodents may forage the direct-sowed seed.

As a general rule, Fire Pink will flower the second year after germination.

How to save Fire Pink seed

After flowering has stopped, seed pods will form. Pods will be green and transition to brown signaling that the seeds are ready to collect and store.

Remove these pods when they turn brown, and keep them in a brown paper bag for about a week somewhere cool and dry.

Then, shake the pods to remove the seed. Store the dried seed in a zip-lock bag in the fridge until ready to winter sow. This is very similar to how you collect Columbine Seed.

Notes on Fire Pink Seed Production

The limited visits by pollinators can make one wonder about the viability or quantity of seed produced by an individual plant. In my research I found studies that showed no difference in seed production on hand-pollinated flowers versus open pollinated flowers. [3]

Wildlife and Pests associated with Fire Pink

Pollinators

Hummingbirds are the primary pollinators of Fire Pink. A five year study conducted in the 90’s showed much greater reproduction in plants that were pollinated by hummingbirds. [4] Additionally, nocturnal moths have also been shown to be important pollinators for Fire Pink, Silene virginica. [5]

By no means the best picture (video still), but this is a bee on a Fire Pink flower.

Bees will visit Fire Pink flowers. Primarily this will be solitary or bumblebees. But overall the hummingbird appears to be the most important pollinator for the Fire Pink flower.

Deer/Rabbits

Fire Pink is browsed by deer, and likely rabbits as well. Furthermore, groundhogs have been observed [4] to consume the foliage.

I recommend you use Liquid Fence to protect your plants from herbivore predation.

Where you can buy Fire Pink

Native Fire Pink is not sold in major garden centers, but is available in specialty native plant nurseries. There are lookalikes, but make sure you read the scientific name on the label to ensure you aren’t getting a hybrid of a different color or species. Changing the color of a flower negatively effects pollinators ability to detect the flowers.

Where to buy seeds

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

Uses of Fire Pink

Garden Uses

Fire Pink makes an excellent landscaping choice for a formal flower bed due to it’s short size. It is not aggressive or invasive.

But in addition to flower beds, Fire Pink can work in a woodland garden with dappled sunlight, or other tough to grow areas like a rocky out-cropping.

Companion Plants

The following plants would make good companion plants to Fire Pink, in terms of size and habitat.

Edible/Medicinal

Fire Pink is not edible. Also, there are no known medicinal uses of Fire Pink.

Furthermore, I could not find any reference to any tribe having any use for this plant. [6]

References:

[1] – MARGARET B. HEASLIP, CYTOECOLOGICAL STUDIES OF SILENE ROTUNDIFOLIA NUTT., S. VIRGINICA L., AND HYBRID1. Ohio Journal of Science, Vol L no3, 1950. https://kb.osu.edu/bitstream/handle/1811/3747/1/V50N03_097.pdf Retrieved 18JUN2021

[2] – Mitchell, Richard S., and Leonard J. Uttal. “Natural Hybridization in Virginia Silene (Caryophyllaceae).” Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, vol. 96, no. 5, 1969, pp. 544–549. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2483790. Accessed 18 June 2021.

[3] – Dudash, M.R. and Fenster, C.B. (1997), MULTIYEAR STUDY OF POLLEN LIMITATION AND COST OF REPRODUCTION IN THE ITEROPAROUS SILENE VIRGINICA. Ecology, 78: 484-493. https://doi.org/10.1890/0012-9658(1997)078[0484:MSOPLA]2.0.CO;2

[4] – Fenster, C.B. and Dudash, M.R. (2001), SPATIOTEMPORAL VARIATION IN THE ROLE OF HUMMINGBIRDS AS POLLINATORS OF SILENE VIRGINICA. Ecology, 82: 844-851. https://doi.org/10.1890/0012-9658(2001)082[0844:SVITRO]2.0.CO;2

[5] – Reynolds, Richard James. Pollinator specialization and the evolution of pollination syndromes in the three related Silene, Silene caroliniana, Silene virginica,and Silene stellata. University of Maryland, College Park. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2008. 3324763. https://www.proquest.com/openview/afc92375730dbe38946b2c72d68573dd/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y

[6] – Native American Ethnobotany Database. http://naeb.brit.org/uses/search/?string=silene

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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