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A surprising field of red

A field of red campion, Silene dioica, with a few hybrids. Image ©GardenPhotos.com
Regular readers will remember that every so often I report on an unexpected crop that I’ve noticed growing in a field as I’ve driven around one or the other of my countries.

There was the field of phacelia and then there was the field of echium (viper’s bugloss). There's also been linseed, lupins, and more. But it’s been a while since I’ve found a new example.

The latest, spotted by friends near the historic local English village of Fotheringhay – where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned by Elizabeth I – turned out to be a field of, mostly, red campion (Silene dioica).

The acres of vivid magenta pink flowers are impressive but even a glance reveals that it’s not that simple. Red campion is a common British wildflower found on roadsides and in woodland glades and along hedgerows generally in places that are not too dry and not too acid. It’s lovely, and there a few named forms – mainly with variegated or coloured foliage, double flowers or dwarf habit.

One of the many variants of Silene dioica found in the Fotheringhay field. Image ©GardenPhotos.comIn the field at Fotheringhay there were plants with pale and with dark flowers, with red calyces and with green, and with wide overlapping petals making a very colourful flower and with slender petals with spaces between creating a starry look. There were also plants with white flowers and plants with pale pink flowers.

The plants with white flowers are, or are derived from the widespread close relative white campion, Silene latifolia; those with pale pink flowers are the result of hybridising between the two to create a hybrid known as Silene × hampeana.

So, this Fotheringhay field features acres of noticeably variable red campion with a few plants of white campion (which were a little taller and a little later flowering than the rest of the plants) and some hybrids mixed in. But what was it all for?

As far as I know red campion is not grown for its oil so I presume that it’s being grown for its seeds which will be sold as wildflower seed and go into wildflower seed mixtures. But with those hybrids included in the crop, and not rogued out, the one thing buyers will not be getting is pure red campion.

But what a lovely sight this field is… Another reason to visit the historic village of Fotheringhay and stop for a meal or a beer at The Falcon Inn.

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