Red campion (Silene dioica)

Also known as: adder’s flower, cuckoo-flower, Robin Hood
GenusSilene (1)
SizeFlower diameter: 18-25 mm (2)
Flowering stem length: 30-90 cm (2)

Not threatened (3).

Red campion is a common spring-flowering plant that in some areas is known as the 'cuckoo-flower' as it shares a season with this winged harbinger of spring (4). During May, it can often be found in association with bluebells and early purple orchids in the same area (5). The flowers are, as the common name suggests, red in colour, but pink and white-flowered varieties may arise (4). The leaves at the base of the plants are elliptical in shape with long winged stalks. The upper leaves are hairy, have short stalks and are more oblong in shape (2). When the plant has ceased flowering, the seed capsules become apparent; these capsules open at the top, allowing the numerous small black seeds to escape (2).

Common and widespread throughout Britain up to altitudes of 1065 m in Scotland (3). It becomes rare in the Brecklands of East Anglia. This plant is also found in much of Europe, reaching as far north as the Faeroes and Spitsbergen, but it is absent from the Mediterranean. It is found in central Asia, North Africa and Greenland and has been introduced to North America (2).

This species thrives best in lightly shaded habitats including coppiced woodlands, shaded gardens, hedgerows, as well as rides and clearings in woodlands (2) (3). It needs high levels of mineral nutrients and is also found in coastal areas, on cliffs, rock crevices, sea-bird rocks as well as in mountainous habitats including screes (3). A non-flowering form is able to withstand deep shade (3).

Red campion occurs as either a biennial or a short-lived perennial herb. The flowers, which are present from May to July are pollinated by long-tonged bumblebees and hoverflies (6) (2). The seeds ripen between June and August (6). As the scientific name dioica suggests, this species is dioecious, which means that individual plants bear either all male or all female flowers (6).

This plant is not threatened.

Conservation action is not required for this species at present.

For more on British native plants and for details of how to get involved in plant conservation visit the website of Plantlife, the wild plant charity:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January 2004):
  2. Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G., and Moore, D.M. (1987) Flora of the British Isles- 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. and Dines, T.D. (2002) New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
  5. Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman’s Flora. Helicon Publishing Ltd, Oxford.
  6. Plants for a Future (January 2004):