Ragged Robin; Silene flos-cuculi

Ragged Robin is an iconic little wild flower in my opinion and there is one plant of it growing in my bit of Ninewells Wood. Great, and I love looking at it.

I first saw it three years ago and it has grown in the same place each year subsequently. Not surprising as it is classified as a perennial, however it is also usually referred to as a plant of grassland and wet habitats, but not woodland. Now this is one of the reasons I am writing this blog/book because I think that quite often what you read in the classic books on the subject are not quite right. I think that sometimes myths and inaccuracies have developed and been perpetuated, so that a new, first hand,personal, individual account is what is needed.   And that’s me.!!!

Incidentally most wild flower books have it as Lychnis flos-cuculi but recently (2015)  it has been put in the same genus as all other Campions so it is now Silene flos-cuculi.

So I am saying, Raged Robin is a plant growing in a variety of habitats but including damp areas of light shady woodland. I have seen it in these places both in Norfolk and now in my own wood in Monmouthshire.

I remember taking various groups of students to a damp wet woodland on the edge of an area known as Shouldham Warren. This was part of the estate of Sir Thomas Hare. It is near Downham Market in Norfolk and my visits were  back in the 1908’s. It was Alder Carr/Silver birch, with a bit of young Oak, full of fantastic mosses, absolutely beautiful and it had just a few woodland flowering species, Marsh Vallerian and Hemp Agrimony…. but also some Ragged Robin.

Different schools would visit for about 5 days at a time throughout the year, Each school group would be acompanied by a couple of their teachers. Now one of the  teachers who accompanied a particular group of students was a nice guy but not to be argued with! and he decided that some of the Ragged  Robins would be better served if he dug them up and transplanted them into his garden. His garden was evidently exemplary as he regularly told me,  he also liked to tell me about his Mini Cooper Sports which he had owned in the 1960’s…. he also used to put on leather driving gloves, the sort with lots of little holes in, before he drove the mini bus. I think you are maybe getting the picture. He was actually a very good teacher. But he dug up the Ragged Robins and took some of them back to Worksop and planted them in his garden. I said nothing, business before environment. It was not a major thing but I always remember it.

Anyway, maybe as a way to haunt me a single Ragged Robin decided to grow in our patch of Ninewells wood. I was delighted, but it did remind me of my reluctance  to speak out on behalf of the Ragged Robin conservation society, all those years ago. It is a member of the Campion family along with the slightly more common Red and White Campions. Red Campion is definitely a ‘woodlandish’ species, it also grows in Ninewells wood, and White Campion is more a plant of open grassland habitats.

The flowers appear in May to August and are a good source of nectar for butterflies and bumble bees. Subsequently a small rounded capsule is produced which contains lots of seeds. These are dispersed using the ‘pepper pot’ mechanism.  However despite the one plant in our woodland flowering now for three years running, no new plants have appeared. Maybe I should lend a helping hand and collect a small number and plant them in a pot of soil back home and then if any grow I can subsequently plant them back out in the woods. Then maybe I will have made up for the ones that were dug up in Norfolk all those years ago. And my conscience can at last be cleared.

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5 thoughts on “Ragged Robin; Silene flos-cuculi

  1. I am sorry you have this uncomfortable memory. Things we omitted doing are sometimes worse than things we did and shouldn’t have. I can imagine how difficult this man was to work with and your reluctance to challenge him is understandable. I wonder if the plants survived the transplant? I think it would be a good experiment to see if you can germinate some of the seed.

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    1. I think that many wild flowers are quite specific in their requirements and thus it is unlikely that the Worksop garden would be a suitable habitat.

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      1. Just as I thought. I am currently reading ‘A Natural History of the Hedgerow’ by John Wright. I am sure you must know it; it’s a really good read. He confirms what you say about plants being specific in their requirements.

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      2. No I was not aware of it so I looked it up and have now ordered it to arrive on Wednesday….. It better be good… cost me £10. !!!!

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      3. It is expensive; I spent £9.99 too. It is a good sized volume and illustrated throughout with colour photographs. He writes with humour and is extremely knowledgeable. I hope you enjoy it.

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