What is Lychnis?

Vasanth S.

Lychnis is a plant genus that is part of the Caryophyllaceae family. It contains about 25 species of perennial and biennial herbs that are native to temperate regions of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Most species have a cluster of flowers that sit atop stick-like stems, which rise above grass-like foliage. They are excellent plants for flower beds or borders. This genus of plants is generally disease and pest free.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The Lychnis genus is derived from the Greek word lychnos, which translates to "lamp." It is believed to refer to the ancient use of the leaves as candle wicks. Commonly, the plants in this genus are called catchflies and campions. The catchfly is a species that has sticky flowers, and the campion's name is derived from the Latin word campus, which translates to "field." This describes the meadow habitat of this species.

In nature, the plants within the Lychnis genus occupy a wide range of habitats including woodlands, meadows, and rocky alpines. Most are accustomed to moist conditions, while a few species, such as L. coronaria and L. flos-jovis, can tolerate prolonged drought conditions. Lychnis alpina is commonly found in the mountainous and arctic regions. It can not tolerate hot summers.

L. alpina is a commonly cultivated species in northern regions. It grows 8 inches (20 cm) in height and width. The plant is commonly called the Alpine catchfly, since flies get stuck on its flowers. Typically, the flowers are purplish-pink and bloom during the spring and summer months. The leaves are a light green to gray color.

Gardeners use this plant in a variety of applications. The traditional flower bed is well suited for Lychnis alpina, as is a border arrangement with similar sized flowering plants. The catchfly can fit nicely in rock gardens as well.

L. viscari is another unique plant within this genus. It is commonly referred to as the German catchfly, since many types of insects get stuck on the upper flowers. The leaves are arranged in a rosette and the stems reach a height of 24 inches (60 cm). The flowers are naturally purplish-pink, but there are hybrids which are white and shades of red.

Most species in this genus require well-draining, fertile soil that is either loamy or sandy. The pH of the soil isn't a big concern since the plants can tolerate both acidic and alkaline conditions. The planting area can be exposed to direct sunlight or be partially shaded from the sun.

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