Small-flowered catchfly (Silene gallica)

GenusSilene (1)
SizeHeight: up to 45 cm (2)

Classified as Nationally Scarce in Great Britain (3).

The small-flowered catchfly is covered in soft hairs and has small narrow leaves and pinkish flowers that are arranged in loose groups called inflorescences and tend to point in the same direction (2). The common name refers to the fact that the plant is sticky, so much so that small flies can become fastened to the leaves or stem (2).

This plant was once a common feature throughout the UK and the range extended as far north as Scotland. Following a severe decline the species now occurs mainly in the south and west of England and Wales (3). Elsewhere it occurs in central and southern Europe, but has largely become extinct in northern Europe (3).

Inhabits cultivated and disturbed ground, typically arable fields on acidic sandy or gravelly soils, wasteland, and old walls. It is also found in open coastal grassland, and sand dunes in the Channel Islands (4).

Small-flowered catchfly is an annual plant; germination typically occurs in autumn, but occasionally in spring and so the plant can be present in both spring and winter crops (3). The species is sensitive to cold winters however, and seedlings are unable to survive in temperatures lower than 10°C (3).

Like many arable ‘weed’ species, the decline of this plant is the result of widespread changes in agricultural practices, including the use of chemical fertilisers and herbicides, the loss of field-margins, earlier harvesting which denies the plants an opportunity to produce seeds, and the introduction of intensively competitive crops (3). At coastal sites, a further threat can arise from the pressures of tourism and other recreational pursuits (3).

This plant is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species, and as such, a Species Action Plan has been produced to guide the conservation of the species. Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity is the lead partner for this species (5). The Species Action Plan aims to maintain the current range of small-flowered catchfly, and aid the return of the species to at least eight former sites before the year 2003 (6). Furthermore, it has been proposed that an ex-situ population be established (3).

Information authenticated by Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity:

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (July, 2002)
  2. Press, B. and Gibbons, B. (1993) Photographic field guide: Wild Flowers of Britain and Europe. New Holland Ltd., London.
  3. UK BAP Species Action Plan (April, 2002)
  4. Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. and Dines, T.D. (2002) New Atlas of the Flora of Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press, London.
  5. Byfield, A. (2003) Pers. comm.
  6. Fisher, J. (1987) Wild Flowers in Danger. H. F. and G. Witherby, Ltd., London.