Pink Family – Caryophyllaceae – identification

The Pink family has 86 genera and  2200 species. It can be divided into 3 sub-families of which two are described here – Silenoideae which includes Silene, Dianthus (carnations and pinks), Agrostemma (corn cockle) and Lychnis and Alsinoideae which includes Cerastium (Snow in summer) and Stellaria (Stitchwort). The scientific name Caryophyllaceae is derived from the Greek word for the clove pink Dianthus caryophyllus, a relative of the carnation that smells like cloves. The name ‘Pink’ may refer to the Dianthus petals which have serrated edges similar to the cuts produced by pinking shears originally developed in the 16th century.  

The  basic flower in this family has 5 sepals, 5 petals, 5 or 10 stamens, 2 to 5 styles and 2 to 5 superior ovaries. Nectaries are at the base of the ovaries. Fruit is a capsule which splits at the top with the seeds dispersed by the wind. 

Red Campion Silene dioica is an abundant wild flower  native to Britain. It is found in woods and hedgerows. As the scientific name indicates this species is dioecious –  it has separate male and female plants, but most species in this family have flowers in which male and female parts are combined.  Both flowers have white corona scales at the base of the petals where they form a short, white corona inside the pink petals.  Both flowers secrete nectar. The plant is pollinated by bumble-bees and long-tongued flies. White Campion Silene latifolia and Bladder Campion Silene vulgaris are closely related wild flower species 

Red Campion female flower with 5 style/stigmas. The 5 notched petals are free but they are constrained  within a  tube of sepals.

Red campion male flower with 5 long stamens (with yellow anthers) and 5 short stamens (with unopened anthers).

Ragged Robin Silene flos-cuculi is a wild flower native to Britain. It flowers in damp meadows and woods from May to August. It has 5 deeply divided petals

Corn Cockle Agrostemma githago is an introduced wild flower that was common in cornfields throughout Britain. It is native to the Mediterranean region. It is an annual. It flowers from May to August. 

Jerusalem Cross Lychnis chalcedonica is native to Russia and China. It has red coronal scales inside the red petals. It is a popular garden plant.

Carnation Dianthus caryophyllus was introduced to Britain in the 11th century. This photo probably is of a cultivar. The original colour is bright pink/purple but red, white, yellow and green varieties have been developed.

Dianthus ‘Firestar’ Dianthus alpinus ‘Firestar’ has 2 styles and 10 petals

Dianthus ‘Doris’ Dianthus allwoodii ‘Doris’ is a Modern Pink. Dianthus is a genus of 300 species and thousands of cultivars known as Pinks and Carnations. Species have 5 petals but cultivars may have many multiples of 5 as shown here

Sweet William Dianthus barbatus is native to Southern Europe. It is a favourite garden plant in Britain, visited by butterflies and hawkmoths. It first arrived in Britain in 1573. 

Snow-in-summer Cerastium tomentosum is a common rockery plant. It is also a wild flower in Britain, introduced from south-eastern Europe.