Moss campion (Silene acaulis)

Moss campion
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Moss campion fact file

Moss campion description

GenusSilene (1)

A long-lived Arctic plant (4) (5) (6) (7), the moss campion (Silene acaulis) is a herbaceous perennial which grows in dense, cushion-like mats (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7). It has numerous, solitary pink flowers, which have a yellow band at the base of the petals, and which are raised slightly above the rest of the plant. The flowers may very occasionally be white (2) (5) and the small stalks which support the flowers, known as ‘pedicels’, are 0.2 to 4 centimetres long (3).

The moss campion is an evergreen plant (4) (8), and is highly branched, with dense, overlapping, lance-shaped leaves that are often slightly hairy and are located around the woody base of the stem. The seeds are light brown and kidney-shaped and are enclosed within a cylindrical capsule (3).

Some scientists recognise a number of subspecies of moss campion, which vary in range, habitat, and leaf and flower shape and size (3) (9)

Height: c. 2.5 cm (2)
Flower width: c. 0.6 cm (2)

Moss campion biology

The flowers of the moss campion are usually hermaphroditic, containing both male and female reproductive parts, or female, containing only female reproductive parts. The female flowers produce seeds and the hermaphroditic flowers produce both pollen and seeds. Both female and hermaphroditic plants may occur in the same population. However, this reproductive system is known to vary between the different subspecies (4). Reproduction in the moss campion is purely sexual, as each plant has a single taproot which does not propagate vegetatively (6).

Early in the summer when the snow has melted, the moss campion begins to flower, attracting insects such as moths, beetles, ants and bumblebees (Bombus spp.) (2) (3) (4) (7) (8), which pollinate the plant. Between August and September, the seeds of the moss campion begin to ripen (8) and are dispersed by the wind or drop onto the ground (7). By mid-August, the annual reproductive period of the plant ends (2).


Moss campion range

The moss campion has a Holarctic distribution which spreads east from Alaska to the Russian Far East, and south into Asia, Europe, Canada and some northern parts of the United States, including Maine and Idaho (2) (3) (8) (9). This widespread plant is found up to elevations of 4,200 metres (3).


Moss campion habitat

The moss campion inhabits gravelly, wet areas in meadows, alpine and arctic tundra and rocky ledges (2) (3) (4) (5) (6), where there is well-drained sandy or loamy soil (8)


Moss campion status

The moss campion has yet to be classified by the IUCN.


Moss campion threats

In certain parts of its range, the moss campion is eaten as a vegetable and is used as a treatment for children with colic, although the effects of collection on the wild population are unknown (8). There are not currently known to be any other threats to this widespread plant species.


Moss campion conservation

There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently in place for the moss campion. 


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Find out more information about the moss campion:

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A plant which retains leaves all year round. This is in contrast to deciduous plants, which completely lose their leaves for part of the year.
Possessing both male and female sex organs.
A biogeographical region encompassing North America, Europe and Asia.
In plants, pedicels are small stalks bearing a single flower within an inflorescence (the flower-bearing reproductive shoot of the plant).
A plant that normally lives for more than two years. After an initial period, the plant usually produces flowers once a year.
To transfer pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Treeless, grassy plains characteristic of Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. They are very cold and have little rainfall.
Vegetative propagation
Type of asexual reproduction (reproduction that does not involve the formation of sex cells) in which a new plant grows from part of another plant, rather than from seeds or spores. The resulting individual is genetically identical to the original plant.


  1. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (April, 2012)
  2. Craighead, J.J., Craighead, F.C. and David, R.J. (1963) Rocky MountainsWildflowers. Houghton Mifflin, New York.
  3. Flora of North America - Moss campion (Silene acaulis) (April, 2012)
  4. Delph, L.F. and Carroll, S.B. (2001) Factors affecting relative seed fitness and female frequency in a gynodioecious species, Silene acaulis. Evolutionary Ecology Research, 3: 487-505.
  5. Alatolo, J.M. and Totland, Ø. (1997) Response to simulated climatic change in an alpine and subarctic pollen-risk strategist, Silene acaulis. Global Change Biology, 3: 74-79.
  6. Morris, W.F. and Doak, D.F. (1998) Life history of the long-lived gynodioecious cushion plant Silene acaulis (Caryophyllaceae), inferred from size-based population projection matrices. American Journal of Biology, 85(6): 784-793.
  7. Gehring, J.L. and Delph, L.F. (1999) Fine-scale genetic structure and clinal variation in Silene acaulis despite high gene flow. Heredity, 82: 628-637.
  8. Plants For A Future - Silene acaulis (April, 2012)
  9. Özgökçe, F., Tan, K. and Stevanović, V. (2005) A new subspecies of Silene acaulis (Caryophyllaceae) from East Anatolia, Turkey. Annales Botanici Fennici, 42: 143-149.

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Moss campion  
Moss campion

© Hervé Lenain / Biosphoto

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