Lychnis alba Mill.

Lychnis alba plant

Family - Caryophyllaceae

Stems - To +70cm tall, herbaceous, erect to decumbent, branching, fistulose, densely pubescent to hirsute, from a taproot, purplish in strong sun.

Leaves - Opposite. Basal leaves petiolate, spatulate. Cauline leaves sessile, oblong to lanceolate above, acute, to +/-10cm long, +/-2.5cm broad, hirsutulous above and below, slightly scabrous above. Margins entire, sometimes undulate or crisped. At least the upper leaves connected at base by a thin membrane sheath.

Lychnis alba leaves

Inflorescence - One to many flowers in an open dichasium. Pedicels(of pistillate plants) elongating in fruit to +/-4cm long. Pedicels of both sex plants often purplish, glandular pubescent. Flowers opening at night, fragrant. Male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers appearing on different plants (dioecious).

Flowers - Petals 5, white, clawed (the claws greenish-white and glabrous), auriculate, to +1cm long, +5mm broad, cleft to the middle, distinct. Stamens 10, typically included. Styles 5, barely exserted, white, glandular pubescent, ribbonlike in apical 1/2. Pistillate calyx becoming inflated, with 20 nerves - 10 bold and 10 faint. Tube to 1.5cm long, hirsutulous to hirsute and glandular pubescent externally, glabrous internally, with 5 lobes. Lobes lanceolate, to 5mm long, 2mm broad at base, hirsutulous to hirsute. Staminate calyx tube slightly shorter than pistillate and with 10 nerves and same pubescence as pistillate calyx. Ovary green, 7mm long, 3mm in diameter, cylindrical, glabrous. Capsule green, ovoid, to 1cm in diameter, 1.5cm long, glabrous, unilocular, with 5 teeth. Teeth each divided and appearing as 10 teeth total. Placentation free-central. Seeds many, brownish to blackish, to 1.2mm long, symmetrically tuberculate.

Lychnis alba calyxPistillate calyx.

Lychnis alba flowerPistillate flower.

Lychnis alba flowerStaminate flower.

Lychnis alba fruitFruit.

Lychnis alba fruit ...again

Flowering - May - September.

Habitat - Fields, waste ground, disturbed sites, roadsides, railroads.

Origin - Native to Europe.

Other info. - This little plant is not extremely common in Missouri yet but is becoming widespread. The flowers open at night and have a pleasant fragrance for attracting flying insects.
This species closely resembles Silene noctiflora L. which also blooms at night and has very similar characteristics. The two plants can be distinguished in the fact that L. alba is a dioecious species, has 5 styles, and has a capsule with 5 teeth (which appear as ten) at the apex. S. noctiflora is monoecious, has 3 styles, and has 6 teeth on the capsule. S. noctiflora is much less common in Missouri than L. alba.
A synonym for L. alba is Silene pratensis (Raf.) Godr. & Gren.

Photographs taken at Geneva State Park, Geneva, Ohio, 8-7-00, and at Pictured Rocks National Seashore, MI., 7-23-02.


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