Lychnis coronaria Lychnis coronaria Lychnis coronaria

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Maltese Cross

Lychnis chalcedonica

  • Latin synonym: Silene chalcedonica
  • Name also: Burning Love, Dusky Salmon, Flower of Bristol, Jerusalem Cross, Nonesuch, Maltesecross
  • Family: Pink Family – Caryophyllaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb.
  • Height: 30–50 cm. Stem unbranched, rough-hairy.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), scarlet (sometimes pink or white), approx. 1.5–2 cm (0.6–0.8 in.) wide; petals five, 2-lobed until halfway, or sometimes entire. Corona (an additional small corolla) small. Calyx tubular, 5-lobed, long-hairy, lacking epicalyx; lobes tapered, with membranous margins. Stamens usually 10. Gynoecium syncarpous, with 5 styles. Inflorescence dense, umbel–umbellate, 10–40-flowered cyme.
  • Leaves: Opposite, stalkless, upper part amplexicaul. Blade ovate–elongated, cordate-based, with entire margin, quite rough.
  • Fruit: 8–10 mm (0.3–0.4 in.) long capsule splitting into 5 lobes.
  • Habitat: Parks, yards, banks. Ornamental, escape and leftover from cultivation.
  • Flowering time: June–August.

Ragged robin flowers are not so well known as ornamentals, but their group includes one of the most common and popular Finnish perennials, Maltese cross. It is a traditional member of the flower bed which was first grown in parks, parsonages and manor house gardens, and later also in countryside and summer cottage yards. Its scarlet inflorescence is very eye-catching among our northern chiefly yellow and purple colour scheme, also when it escapes. Maltese cross usually thrives for a long time in the place it was planted, and it often grows wild round the sites of old houses.

Feral Maltese cross grows close to Finland in damp meadows and hedgerows in southern Russia. It has probably come from further afield in Europe: apparently crusaders brought the plant with them from the Middle East. In many languages the plant is known as Jerusalem or Maltese cross, and the flower really resembles the Maltese cross of the Templars when it is looked at from above, even if it has an extra point. Maltese cross began its conquest of central European gardens back in the 16th century, reaching Sweden a couple of hundred years later and finally also Finland. The plant’s roots contain saponins – soap-like compounds – which make a frothy washing solution when they are added to water. A better-known and more well-used soap plant is however its relative soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), which also grows wild in places where it has previously been cultivated as an ornamental or useful plant. Feral ragged robin (L. flos-cuculi) doesn’t directly resemble its better-known relatives on the flower bed, but it can hold its head up high beside them as an abundantly-flowered ornamental.

Rose Campion

Lychnis coronaria (Silene coronaria)

Like Maltese cross, rose campion may escape from gardens. When not in bloom these species may resemble each other; leaves are ovate, amplexicaul and in pairs opposite; rose campion’s leaves are gray-haired. When flowering, the differences are clear, rose campion’s flowers are in lax cymes, petals are entire, only slightly notched covering partly each other resembling corn cockle (Agrostemma githago).

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

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