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Alpine Catchfly

Viscaria alpina

  • Name also: Red Alpine catchfly
  • Latin synonym: Lychnis alpina, Silene suecica
  • Family: Pink Family – Caryophyllaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb.
  • Height: 10–40 cm (4–16 in.) var. alpina, 5–15 cm (2–6 in.) var. serpentinicola. Stem erect, unbranched, glabrous, not sticky.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), pink–reddish violet (occasionally white), approx. 1–2 cm (0.4–0.8 in.) broad; petals five, 2-lobed, with corona, sometimes lacking. Calyx tubular, 5-lobed, green–violet, without epicalyx. Stamens several, sometimes vestigial in some flowers. Gynoecium syncarpous, with 5 styles. Inflorescence an umbel (var. alpina) or lax and racemose (var. serpentinicola); flowers fragrant.
  • Leaves: In basal rosette and opposite on stem. Leaves stalkless. Blade linearly lanceolate (var. alpina) or almost needle-like (var. serpentinicola), with entire margins.
  • Fruit: 5-valved capsule.
  • Habitat: In northern Finland on rocks, also an ultra-alkaline serpentine rocks, river bank gravel and sand fields, gravels and solifluction on fell heaths, in southern Finland on lichen-rocks.
  • Flowering time: June–August.

Alpine catchfly is a relative of sticky catchfly (V. vulgaris), but it lacks the dark, sticky secretion that gives its relative its name. In the north the species grows quite commonly beside rivers and on stony and gravelly parts of fells. Further south it grows sporadically on extremely nutrient-poor rapakivi granite.

Alpine catchfly is divided into two variations, of which var. alpina is more common, growing all over the country. It is larger and has broader leaves than var. serpentinicola, which grows in northern Finland and is named after extremely alkaline serpentine rock, which has an extremely high magnesium content and other exceptional chemical qualities which makes it poisonous to many plants, or at least unsuitable. Var. serpentinicola is one of those rare plants which can tolerate land that has been saturated with heavy metals and even grows on poisonous copper-mine waste heaps. In fact, it shows up so reliably on metallic soil that it is regarded as an indicator plant in the search for ore. Alpine catchfly stands do not of course automatically mean that it’s a good place to sink a mine, but the area is certainly worth a closer look. Alpine catchfly was so helpful in finding the Viscaria mine in northern Sweden that it was named in its honour (Viscaria alpina). It is unfortunate that the stone and ore industry has destroyed the habitat of many unique serpentine plants, and threatens to do so in the future.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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