Silene hitchguirei (Mountain Campion)
|Also known as:|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade, sun; tundra, rocky slopes, cliff ledges|
|Plant height:||1 to 4 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.
Usually a single flower at the top of the stem, occasionally also 1 or 2 stalked flowers arising from the upper leaf axils. Flowers have 5 white, spreading petals that are notched at the tip and about 1/8 inch (2 to 3 mm) long. Hiding inside the floral tube are 10 stamens and 5 styles.
The calyx surrounding the floral tube is up to 3/8 inch (7 to 10 mm) long, generally elliptic, pale with dark green to purple veins and 5 short, triangular lobes at the tip. The calyx and stalks are covered in a mix of glandular and non-glandular hairs.
Leaves and stems:
There is a basal rosette plus 1 or 2 pairs of opposite leaves along the stem. Leaves are toothless and variously covered in short, spreading hairs. Basal leaves are linear to narrowly spatula-shaped, blunt to pointed at the tip, up to about 1½ inches (to 4 cm) long including the stalk.
Stem leaves are more lance-linear, shorter than basal leaves, stiff, more or less erect and stalkless, the leaf pairs joined at the base. Stems are erect, unbranched, single or multiple from the base, hairy, more densely so on the upper stem.
Mountain Campion is an alpine species found in the harsh, cold, thin soils of the Rocky Mountains. So why is it profiled here? In late summer of 2018, Otto Gockman was exploring one of the many cliff faces in Lake County, in search of lichens, when he happened upon a tiny plant he was unfamiliar with. It appeared to be a Silene species, gone to seed, but unlike any he was familiar with. The longest stem was less than 4 inches long. A specimen was collected and we all examined it to death, putting it under the microscope and photographing every aspect.
Initially, it was thought to be Silene involucrata, which seemed logical since that species is present just to our north in Canada, but it didn't quite fit the description, in particular the seeds all being 1 mm or less long, where S. involucrata seeds are 1 to 1.5 mm long. It actually keyed out to S. hitchguirei, but was so far out of range we didn't quite believe that, either. A specimen and photos were sent off to a Silene expert in Sweden who concluded it was indeed S. hitchguirei based on the seeds. 1000+ miles from its nearest population in the Rockies. Wow. A few more plants were found higher up the same cliff the following year.
How it got here and how long it's been on that particular rock is anyone's guess. Genetic testing may reveal some answers but it is uncertain if there is anything to compare it to, so it may well remain a mystery for some time. A search for more populations in that area could be telling.
Please visit our sponsors
Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓
- Mountain Campion plants
- Mountain Campion habitat
- getting up close and personal
- basal rosettes in late May
- collected specimen
- a second flower emerging from the leaf axil
Photos by Otto Gockman taken in Lake County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?