Silene nivea (Snowy Campion)
|Also known as:|
|Habitat:||part shade; moist woods, streambanks, floodplain forest, sedge meadows|
|Bloom season:||June - July|
|Plant height:||1 to 3 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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1 to a few stalked flowers mostly arising from the upper leaf axils. Flowers are white, about ½ inch across with 5 widely spreading petals that are notched at the tip, but not very deeply divided. A short, white, ruffled appendage is attached to the petal at the mouth of the central tube. The 10 stamens and a 3-parted style barely extend out of the tube.
The calyx is about ½ inch long, light green with obscure veins and a dimple at the base where the stalk is attached that can make it look flattened from the side. At the tip are 5 triangular lobes. The calyx and flower stalk are smooth to variously hairy.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are 2 to 4 inches long, 1/3 to 1 1/3 inches wide, lance-elliptic, toothless, hairless to minutely hairy, sharply pointed at the tip, wedge shaped to rounded at the base, stalkless or nearly so. The largest leaves are near mid-stem, the lowest leaves typically withering away by flowering time. Leaf nodes are slightly swollen, the opposite leaf bases joining around the stem, and may be reddish. Stems are smooth to minutely hairy, slender and weak, often supported by surrounding vegetation.
The calyx inflates as fruit matures, becoming more bell-shaped. Fruit is an oval to round capsule about as long as the calyx. When ripe it splits open at the tip, the 6 teeth flaring out. Inside are kidney-shaped seeds, brownish black with a grayish bloom.
While researching Snowy Campion, I came upon numerous images on the web labeled Silene nivea that were misidentified. Some appeared to be White Campion (Silene latifolia), which is rather hairy all over and has raised veins on the calyx. Many more were Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris), which is a weedy species, mostly hairless like Snowy Campion, but a much more heavily branched plant, has branching clusters of several to many flowers, petals more deeply divided into 2 lobes, its calyx more obviously veined and lacks the dimple at the base. Snowy Campion is rare in Minnesota; we are at the northwest tip of its range and it is only found in a few of our southeast counties, primarily in alluvial forest. According to the DNR, much of its forested river valley habitat has been destroyed by agriculture and few populations remain. It was listed as a Threatened species in 1996 and is listed as Special Concern in Wisconsin. While the MN DNR does not mention any particular conservation efforts, at least one private landowner in Winona county is ensuring this species survives on his own property by fighting non-native buckthorn and wild parsnip and at the same time collecting S. nivea seed each season, spreading it across other parts of his land. We need more good stewards like him.
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Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Winona County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?