Description & Overview
Royal Catchfly is an interesting upright perennial with narrow, lance-shaped leaves. Its stems, leaves, and calyces are covered in fine “sticky” white hairs that catch insects. Sitting atop the stems are loose clusters of bright red, star-shaped flowers that make their appearance in mid-summer. This plant is native to Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana, although rare throughout its range.
An inhabitant of oak barrens, sedge meadows, black soil prairies, and limestone barrens, Royal Catchfly prefers dry, rocky soils. Royal Catchfly has been extirpated from several states and is now considered Endangered or Threatened by most states within its range.
Royal Catchfly is happiest in shallow rocky or dry soils and does not like wet feet. It also appreciates part shade wherever it’s planted.
Add this beauty to a bird garden! Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are very much attracted to Royal Catchfly’s scarlet red, tubular flowers seeking nectar. Any trapped insects in the plants’ hairs will also draw in insectivorous birds.
With a preference for well-drained soils, Royal Catchfly would do well in rock gardens, prairies, or meadows, adding bright pops of color.
That intense red color, not often found naturally, would set off a cottage garden, intermingled with Sweet Black-eyed Susan or Coneflowers.
Royal Catchfly is a hummingbird magnet. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the main pollinators, seeking delicious nectar from the tubular flowers. It is one of a few prairie plants pollinated by hummingbirds who spread pollen between populations of Royal Catchfly, ensuring genetic diversity. Talk about a symbiotic relationship!
The sticky hairs on the stems and leaves act like fly paper and are a deterrent for insects wanting to feed on the plant. Those who dare may find themselves caught, becoming a buffet for birds who enjoy insects.
Black Swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes) and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) are known to visit the flowers.
Royal Catchfly is fairly easy to grow, but it can be slow to develop. Plants begin to bloom when they’re small but may take several years to get going.
In periods of drought, the lower leaves may turn yellow and fall off. Be sure to water your plant in times when rainfall is lacking.
This perennial will be short-lived if overcrowded, developing fungi-give them room to spread. Royal Catchfly develops a deep taproot and for this reason, it is best not to move it once planted.
Plant in well-drained soils as they do not do well in soggy conditions.
The fruit is a capsule that ripens in late August, with seeds falling in early autumn. The seeds disperse as the plants are jostled by the wind. To germinate, seedlings need an open soil surface. Royal Catchfly responds well to fire management where the seed germination rate is two to three-fold compared to “regular” natural germination.
The stems are fragile and may need staking.
Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: No
Deer and rabbits may consume bits of the plant but usually, opt for others that aren’t so sticky.
Aphids may suck juices from the upper stems occasionally, but this is not detrimental to the health of the plant.
The genus name Silene is derived from Silenus, a satyr and foster father of Bacchus, who was described as covered with foam, like catchflies. Silene is also from the Greek word ‘sialon’ meaning “saliva” referring to the sticky secretions on the plant. The specific epithet regia means “royal” or “princely.”
Name another red flowering perennial plant having trouble? That’s because many pollinating insects are insensitive to this range of the light spectrum.
The main threats to Royal Catchfly are encroachment of woody plant material using fire suppression, land development, and wild seed collection.
There are few recorded uses of Silene regia in ethnobotanical resources. One source says that the root of this species was used as a worm medicine.
Combine Royal Catchfly with others that enjoy similar dry conditions such as:
- Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera)
- Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)
- New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)
- Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium)
- Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)
- Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
- Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
- Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)
- Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium)
- Hairy Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis)
- Hairy Penstemon (Penstemon hirsutus)