September Scarlet

This beautiful scarlet catchfly (Silene subciliata) is the only red-flowering catchfly in southeast Texas. According to Rare Plants of Texas (Poole, Carr, Price & Singhurst), three other scarlet Silene species are native to Texas, but two (S. laciniata and S. plankii) are found in the mountains of the Trans-Pecos, and S. virginica is a spring bloomer limited to far northeast Texas.

As much as four feet tall and somewhat twiggy, scarlet catchfly has thin stems and narrow, grass-like leaves; compared to other catchflies, its stems and leaves are relatively smooth.  A rare plant endemic to a small area of southeast Texas and adjacent southwest Louisiana, it’s most often found in open, disturbed habitats such as the deep, sandy soils of fire-maintained longleaf pine savannahs.

In the course of a wildflower walk at the Watson Rare Plant Preserve near Warren, Joe Liggio pointed out a few developing catchfly buds.

When I returned a week later, I found several buds in various stages of development, and a few already-blooming flowers that had been nibbled and gnawed to a significant degree.

At a different site, I was pleased to find a few fresher flowers that were as eye-catching as fly-catching.

Although named for sticky, insect-trapping bands that encircle its stem between the upper leaves, catchfly doesn’t feed on the insects it traps. Presumably, other predators take advantage of its catch, celebrating their find of an easy meal.

The catchfly’s bloom time probably depends upon its location. One source says that it flowers between August and mid-September; another places the bloom between July and October, occasionally extending into November.

These August and September photos come from Hardin and Tyler counties; the U.S. Forest Service suggests the flower also can be found at the Stark Tract and Fox Hunter’s Hill in the Sabine National Forest. There still may be time to find them there.


Comments always are welcome.

64 thoughts on “September Scarlet

    1. Fortunate, indeed — it may be the most beautiful red I’ve seen. I try always to be careful in the field, but I was especially cautious around these. The last thing I wanted to do was accidentally step on one. I’m hoping to find a better view of multiple flowers, without such a tangle of surrounding plants.

    1. I found a couple of barely opening buds with petals that seemed pinkish, but as soon as more than the barest bit of color showed, that red began to predominate. The bud in the third photo reminded me of a lipstick.

    1. You’re welcome, Pit. It’s been such fun to search out plants like this. Even with more common flowers, it’s more satisfying to find them in their natural environment, and finding the rare ones is exciting.

    1. I didn’t know this one existed until last year, when I landed in the Pineywoods while searching for the Winkler’s white fire-wheel. There’s another rare one in the neighborhood: Texas trailing phlox (Phlox nivalis ssp. texensis). It’s on the federally endangered list, and from what I know is found only in a very few natural sites: perhaps three. It has been reintroduced by the Forest Service, though, so in the spring I’ll find out more about where to start looking for that one.

  1. Wow, that’s a beauty, and what a vivid red. We brought a clump of German Catchfly from my grandmother’s garden, years ago, but it didn’t thrive at our house, and it wasn’t this brilliant color. This photos are excellent – – I have to tell you, that second shot, of the unopened pod, looks like an okra taking to prayer! :)

    1. I spent some time trying to identify your grandmother’s plant. I found three species called German Catchfly, but eventually settled on Silene viscaria, which used to be called Lychnis viscaria. There are some photos at the link, which show the flowers as a kind of purple-y pink.

      I laughed at your description of the bud. I saw hands, too, but I saw a perplexed flower-to-be, seemingly scratching its chin. Perhaps it was wondering whether the time to bloom had come.

  2. I’ve never heard of these and they are absolutely beautiful! What a delightful find. Texas does have the most glorious wildflowers, I think — and I also think you have found them all!

    1. I’ll bet you’d be surprised to see how many Silene species there are in Michigan. Look at this list from the University of Michigan herbarium. (Scroll past all the stuff at the top to the clickable list at the bottom.) A few are native; most have European roots. Still, there they are — right in your neighborhood. Most aren’t so colorful, though. I’ve never seen a red that glowed the way this flower does.

      I’ve hardly found all of our wildflowers — Texas has over 5,000 species. So, let’s say I’ve found 200, or even 300. I’ve got some exploring to do!

  3. Linda, I don’t recall ever hearing — or seeing — a scarlet catchfly, but it’s a beauty! Red always manages to catch the eye (probably why so many sports teams choose red as one of their colors, ha!) If it traps insects but doesn’t eat them, what kind of predators come along later for a free meal?

    1. Right — and that’s why red’s the wrong color for a car if you’re a person who likes to tempt fate by going over the speed limit. Red catches the eye of the law as much as the eye of a flower hunter.

      I don’t have a clue what kind of predators would go after the insects caught in the flower’s stickiness. I did read that other Silene species are even hairier and stickier, and can end up with insects stuck to them along the whole length of the stem. In those cases, there are glands that secrete digestive enzymes, breaking down the insect bodies before they rot and affect the plant.

      Nature! There’s always a surprise.

      1. I’ve only had one red car, and it got slammed into on a Texas highway, leaving me with whiplash and the car with serious damage in the repair shop. Never again!!

        1. Oh, my. Being slammed into never is a good thing — I’m glad you escaped relatively unharmed, and with a repairable car. You talked about another accident sometime in the past year (I think) — was that the second one for you? Twice would leave me a little unnerved, too.

    1. Did you collect your own seed? I see there are several nurseries that have garden-grown seed available, as well as plants. Dormant bare root or potted plants have limited shipping times, and “out of stock” notices were everywhere, but the seed seemed to be available.

    1. The maps show six Silene species in your state, but not this one. That’s all right — you have some equally beautiful plants that we don’t see, especially in south Florida and the Keys. I’m thinking of that Royal Poinciana tree, particularly.

    1. Thanks so much, Tom. I was pleased beyond words to find them. Silene subciliata is endemic to a very few counties in Texas and Louisiana, so I suspect your species might be Silene virginica or Silene regia (royal catchfly). Both are native, similar in appearance to this one, and display that beautiful red color.

      Once I found this catchfly and started reading, I was astonished to find so many species around the country. It’s good that so many people can enjoy them.

        1. It’s great that you have a nature preserve near to you, and that the plants are doing well there. Even the smallest bit of land can support wonders. All we have to do is bear witness to them.

    1. I’m hoping for one or two more sightings before the season’s over. With any luck at all, I’ll have a chance to head to the woods when the temperature has lowered a bit and the flowers still are blooming. I’ve always thought of forests as cool, shady, pleasant places. I think that must be Minnesota I’m remembering. The piney woods in August isn’t that.

  4. It is a wonderful plant, so intensely red and beautiful in its five-petaled simplicity. I am always appreciative when I am introduced to a new flower, but this one brings special joy. Thank you, Linda.

    1. I’m pleased to share it with you, David. In some ways, flowers are like birds: if you know where they like to hang out, are willing to travel to those spots, and have a lot of patience, you’ll often be rewarded. This was a great reward, indeed, and I’m glad you found joy in it.

  5. Great photos of this brilliantly coloured flower. I can imagine it is visible from some distance away. The shallow DOF (Depth of Field) you used make for a lovely flower image.

    1. They certainly do shine, even from a distance. The bloom are relatively small, though, so they easily can be lost in the tangle of other plant life surrounding them. That was one reason I photographed these are I did — to simplify the background. I’d like very much to get some good photos of them in a more artistic tangle. I’ll give that a try when I can get away again.

  6. Those images are stunning! Red isn’t the easiest of colours to photograph, but you make it look so easy. The silene was often grown by my mother, and others of her generation, perhaps part of their charm being their capacity to reseed easily.
    I’m done with dust for now, and am hoping to find spring blooms soon.

    1. I’ve always had trouble photographing yellow in full sun, and with these, it was the dappled, moving light that was an issue. I discarded at least half of the photos immediately, and another quarter of them soon after. No matter: having a few worth sharing was the goal — not to mention having a few photos to remember these glorious flowers by.

      Until I found these and started reading about the genus, I had no idea there are so many Silene species around the world. Whether you find a Silene this spring, I’m glad that you’re moving into a new season; I’ll look forward to the photos you’re moved to share.

  7. Lovely photos, Linda. These photos are so interesting and informative. I had never know of this flower before and find it beautiful in that magnificent red. East Texas certainly has a bevy of unusual plants.

    1. It was only a year ago I learned of this flower’s existence. Since then, I’ve found some other East Texas gems, and when I get myself organized (will that ever happen?) I’ll be sharing them in a more comprehensive post. Not all are rare, or even unusual — for that part of the country they’re akin to our sunflowers: so common they’re “just part of the scenery.” But they’re interesting, or beautiful, or both, just like this plant. They’re a little more subtle, though. That red is really something.

  8. Red is always dominant, especially in flowers. It is known as an advancing colour. If the primary colours of blue, yellow and red are spaced at equal distances. The blue will appear further away than the red with the yellow in between.
    I heard of flycatcher plants but never of catchfly. Lovely photos, Linda.

    1. That’s interesting about the way the colors appear to the eye. It certainly is true that red stands out, just as these flowers did, even at some distance. While these aren’t carnivorous plants, they grow in places where some of Texas’s carnivorous plants also can be found. There will be some photos of those, too, although I think I found them a little late in their season. At this point, I don’t know enough about them to know if that’s so, or not.

    1. Thanks so much, Derrick. I was pleased to be able to capture a bit of these flowers’ beauty; they really are extraordinary, and deserve to be more widely known.

  9. I can’t believe its September already! I look forward to the moderation of temps and humidity that Fall will bring hopefully soon. Its a free sauna out there if you don’t care what your clothes look like.

    Your scarlet flower looks wonderful against that green…like Christmas.

    1. It made me think of Christmas, too. In fact, it looks rather like our native poinsettia, which is much smaller and more delicate in appearance than the hothouse varieties bred for decorating. I especially like the diagonal banding in the first photo. I can see that one, or the last, as cards.

      A friend who lives in the country says she’s starting to see some ground fog in the mornings, and some of the birds are on the move. We may feel as though it’s still summer, but changes already are happening. Only this week, I finally noticed the shortening days, and the different sun angle. I’m not one to wish life away, but I’m ready to wish September away — and the storms with it.

    1. I keep finding more and more Silene species scattered around the world — and to think I didn’t know there was one species, a year ago. They’re in the pinks family, which also contains baby’s breath and chickweed. Clearly, the botanists don’t go only by appearance when they categorize their plants!

    1. Vivid they are, and they clearly do well in the heat of late summer. There were still plenty of buds, and their area is getting some rain, so they may hold on for a while longer.

    1. It’s one of my favorites now, for its simplicity as well as its wonderful color. One thing I noticed is that the smaller ones tend to have smoother petal edges. Whether the notched edges are a result of growth and increased size, I don’t know, but the difference is clear between the first and last photos.

  10. I had the same reaction as Steve, the red is so much like that of the cardinal flower. So deep and rich. Not much that occurs in nature is happenstance. I wonder what benefit this plant receives by providing that free lunch you mention. Pollen attracts to spread its genetic material and I wonder why the sticky substance is there.

    1. So a quick Google gave one indication that it’s just to protect the plant against attacking insects.I guess providing them to other insects keeps the populations down and therefore does protect them to some degree.

      1. Look at that — agreement! It’s interesting that other plants seem to invite ants in, or at least make it easy for them to feed on the plant’s nectar while repelling other pests.

    2. An article about a different species, Silene viscaria, had this to say:

      “[Catchflies are best known] for the reddish-brown sticky substance that covers the upper part of the stem and which has given the plant its common and scientific names. It is thought that the secretion is the plant’s way of foiling predators, especially ants who try to climb the stem and push their way into the flower. The proof of the efficiency of this system can often be seen with one’s own eyes: apart from all kinds of rubbish, many kinds of both winged and wingless insects can be found stuck to the stem.”

      It seems all of the species in the genus are pollinated by bees, butterflies, small beetles, and such.
      I didn’t see anything crawling up the stems, that’s for sure. When it comes to catchflies, there aren’t any ants in the plants!

    1. Other people have mentioned its resemblance, color-wise, to the cardinal flower. I love the shape. I noticed that some flowers have smooth-edged petals, while other, larger flowers, have toothed edges. I suspect the larger, older flowers develop those toothed edges, but I don’t know. They certainly are attractive.

    1. From what I’ve read, the purpose of the stickiness (or at least our best hypothesis about that stickiness) is that it keeps unwanted insects, like ants, from reaching the bloom. The flowers are pollinated by bees, flies, small beetles, and butterflies, which can get to the business end of the bloom without having to cope with all that goo. I found a couple of notes that Silene species grown as garden plants are even stickier, and people who pluck them for display in a vase end up having to deal with the glue-like substance themselves.

    1. Isn’t it beautiful? So many reds tend toward purple or orange, but these lovelies are as pure a red as can be. I’ll tell you this — they’re pretty easy to spot in the woods, as long as a tree isn’t in the way.

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