The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Starry Campion (Widowsfrill)


Scientific Name
Silene stellata (L.) W.T. Aiton


Plant Family
Pink (Caryophyllaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Early to Late Summer



Starry Campion is a nice erect native perennial growing in the open woods, up to 20 inches in height, and usually unbranched except in the inflorescence. The stem may have fine hair.

The leaves are narrow lanceolate (broadest in the lower half), entire and on the central part of the stem appear in whorls of 4, except that on the upper stem under the inflorescence there will be only an opposite pair and sometimes on the very lower part of the stem they will also be opposite. Most surfaces may be free of hair but there is usually very fine hair on the leaf margin. There is usually a swelling of the stem at the base of the leaf whorl and often a purplish color there.

The inflorescence is an open cluster with numerous branches (a panicle). There will usually be a pair of opposite small leafy bracts at each branch of panicle. Stalks of the panicle and of individual flowers are usually smooth but sometimes with fine hair.

The Flowers have a green calyx that is obscurely 10-veined, with 5 teeth on the upper rim, sparsely hairy, bell-shaped, becoming more ovoid and triangular after fertilization. The individual flowers are 3/4 inch wide when open with a white corolla 2x longer than the calyx with 5 petals that have frilly or deeply fringed lobes. Flowers are perfect - stamens number 10 as in most Silenes; they have white filaments with yellowish anthers and are the length of the petals. There are 3 white styles from a 3-chambered ovary. The styles are branched and protrude beyond the petals. The flowers open early in the day, are open during the day, but may close in the afternoon. Flower stalks are also subtended by one or two pairs of small bracts.

Seed: Fertile flowers mature to a ovoid seed capsule that has 3 broad 2-cleft teeth at the top, giving the appearance of 6 teeth. When the numerous seeds are mature, these teeth reflex and the seeds are shaken out by the wind. Seeds are dark brown, kidney shaped with a rough surface.


Habitat: Starry Campion grows from a taproot and being perennial, older plants can send up multiple stems. Otherwise, it propagates from seed. It grows in partial sun in woods and clearings having moderate to dry moisture conditions.

Names: The genus, Silene, is from the Greek word seilenos and believed to be derived from Silenus who was the foster father of the Greek god Bacchus. Silenus was described as covered with foam, a reference to the white foam frequently found on stems of this genus. The species, stellata, is a Latin word applied to plants with flowers that have a star-like appearance. The author names for the plant classification are: First to classify in 1853 was '(L.)' which refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. He assigned the name Cucubalus stellatus. His work was amended in 1811 to the current name assigned by ‘W.T.Aiton’ which refers to William Townsend Aiton (1766-1849), Scottish botanist, son of William Aiton, he succeeded his father as director of Kew Gardens, was a founder of the Royal Horticultural Society, and published a second edition of his father’s catalogue Hortus Kewensis.

Comparisons: This Silene is distinct with the frilly petal lobes and the leaves in a whorl. Close relatives with white flowers that may be mistaken for this species are: Night-flowering Catchfly, S. noctiflora, which also has 3 styles, but flowers open at night; White Campion, S. latifolia, which has white petals but opposite leaves and Evening Campion, S. nivea, which has no ribs on the calyx and opposite leaves.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Starry Campion drawing

Above: Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

Below: The lobes of the petals are deeply fringed. Flowers have 10 stamens and 3 styles.

Starry Campion Starry Campion flower closeup

Below: 1st photo - The calyx is bell shaped, hairy, with 5 pointed lobes. The 10 veins are a slightly deeper green. This example has fine hair on the stalk and the calyx. 2nd photo - A leaf node on the upper stem. Nodes usually have swelling and a purplish color. 3rd photo - The base of the inflorescence with the pair of small bracts. 4th photo - The taproot.

calyx stem node inflorescence bract root

Below: 1st Photo - the pair of opposite leaves on the upper stem below the inflorescence. 2nd photo - a typical 4 leaf whorl in the central part of the stem, with the slight swelling (reddish area) where the leaves meet. Stem has fine short hair.

Pair of opposite leaves Starry Campion leaf

Below: The ovoid seed capsule is smooth on the outside. The seeds are dark brown, kidney shape, with a wrinkled surface.

seed and capsule

Below: Note the pair of bracts where each branch of the panicle divides. The pair at the base of the inflorescence is larger.

large group of flowers


Notes: Starry Campion has had several appearances in the Garden. Eloise Butler first planted it on May 9th in 1910 with plants from Kelsey's Nursery in North Carolina; again on May 1, 1912 with plants from Kelsey's and then on Aug. 14, 1912 found some indigenous plants growing on the west hillside. The plant was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 Garden Census but has not been on any later census but was in the Garden again in 2019. Starry Campion is native to Minnesota, found only in the southern part of the state, in 26 counties across the southern section and up into the metro area. In the U.S. it is found from the central plains eastward except for Florida, New Hampshire and Maine. Not found in Canada.

Eloise Butler wrote of this plant: "Dusky glens are illuminated by the Starry Campion, Silene stellata, thus refuting the poet who says that the night has a thousand stars and the day but one. The poignant beauty of the flower is due to the delicate white-fringed petals that cap the green calyx bell. Some of the silenes are catch-flies and are active assistants in the campaign against the malignant germ carriers, slaying innumerable hordes by glutinous hairs." Published 7/30/1911, Minneapolis Sunday Tribune

There are twelve Silenes found in Minnesota, 4 native and 8 not native; this species is one of 4 that is native. The Silenes native to Minnesota are: S. antirrhina, Sleepy Catchfly; S. drummondii, Drummond's Campion; S. nivea, Snowy Campion; and S. stellata, Starry Campion.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.