fire pink seeds

My Cherokee Garden

A collection of native plants that were culturally and historically sigificant to the Cherokees

Fire Pink (Silene virginica)

Fire Pink is a perennial that can grow to eighteen inches tall with red blooms during April and May, the flowers are about two inches in diameter. It thrives in dry to moist, well drained soils in full sun to part shade in the afternoons. It prefers soil with sharp drainage like shady rocky ledges. This plant grows best in it’s native setting and can germinate its seeds in ideal conditions. It is difficult to germinate Fire Pink’s seeds outside of its natural habitat and that is why you rarely see it for sale from the native plant growers.

Just last week, The Cherokee Garden was gifted two Fire Pinks by the Georgia Native Plant Society. In additions to the Fire Pinks they donated 20 additional native plants used by the Cherokee. We are indeed fortunate to have the support of the Georgia Native Plant Society.

The Cherokee made a tea from the roots that was used to expel worms from the body.

Fire Pink is a perennial that can grow to eighteen inches tall with red blooms during April and May, the flowers are about two inches in diameter. It thrives in dry to moist, well drained soils in full sun to part shade in the afternoons. It prefers soil with sharp drainage like shady rocky ledges. …

Strategies for Stewards: from woods to prairies

Eco-restoration in tallgrass savanna, prairie, woods, and wetlands – inviting input from all – especially people participating in this newborn discipline of ecosystem healing.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Does “Fire Pink” Make Much of a Difference?

Then unexpectedly in 2015, despite years of failure, fire pink ( Silene virginica) began to demand another look. One new advocate turned out to be the ruby-throated hummingbird. Some rare species of butterflies, mushrooms, snakes, and birds were returning to Somme as the restoration proceeded. One of these in recent years was the hummingbird (a regular migrant, but rare as a breeding bird here). A tiny predator of small insects and valuable pollinator of certain flowers, it seemed to deserve help.
Beginning in 2014, male and female humming birds were seen at Somme all summer long, performing their
spectacular mating flights, and most likely nesting. In this photo the young male is nectaring on cardinal flower.
But hummingbirds search in vain during late spring for co-adapted red flowers. Where’s the fire pink?!
Because insects generally don’t perceive the color red, hummingbirds are the principal pollinators of red flowers. Those flowers and this bird are adapted to each other. Our ecosystems don’t have many red flowers, but where hummingbirds live there is a progression of red species that bloom in turn throughout the growing season. The list for us includes scarlet painted cup, columbine, fire pink, Michigan lily, figwort, and cardinal flower. Perhaps it would strengthen the resilience and sustainability of Somme’s oak ecosystem if the hummingbird/red-flower component were to be completed such that these “cogs and wheels” [2] were restored to functionality.
Isolated “nursery garden” for a few “special care” species.

Fire pink seeds and the green capsules they fall from. The stewards at Somme choose seed to gather and sow
according to plans and goals carefully chosen by Forest Preserve staff and collaborators.

If we had perfect knowledge and unlimited resources, it might have been a good idea to wait years or decades before broadcasting the seeds of some of the most rare plants. But it was impossible to predict which would survive where. And we had a deadline. The sites where we were finding and
In the darkening understory of unburned oak woods,
thousands of rare plant populations
were being lost, forever.
gathering the seeds were rapidly being lost. Most seed sources would not be around ten or twenty years hence. That was sometimes because prairies and woods were being bulldozed for “progress.” But it was also because some of seed-source plants lived in “preserves” that were not yet being cared for. Their “most conservative” species were often the first to die out as the degradation set in. Our challenge, at that time, was to conserve what we could. We had to find seeds from vanishing populations, choose recipient sites, and develop successful techniques – while we had the opportunity. Otherwise whatever was unique to those vanishing gene pools would be lost forever.
Conservative plants do well together. Here early meadow rue, hepatica, wild geranium and Penn sedge make a turf. We wondered, would fire pink do better planted here than it did on bare ground in typical woodland restoration?

Fire pink by Carol Freeman
Hummingbird by Lisa Culp

[7] To collect a rare seed like fire pink normally requires a bare minimum of two trips. Before the first one, try to determine when the plants are likely to be in flower. Then go there, find them, and mark them in some way (flagging, sketch map, GPS, whatever works). When fire pink is bright red, it’s easy to spot them. When they’re just green, finding a few plants in a big preserve is nearly hopeless. Next, try to determine when the seeds will be ripe. If you’re lucky you’ll hit it on your first trip. But more likely by your second trip you’ll find that deer or rabbits ate all the plants, or they were
Fire pink seeds are precious. What is all that dramatic ornamentation about?
Every new detail we learn has the potential to help us be better stewards.

trampled, or a drought caused them to abort their seeds, or you waited too long and they just fell, clunk. In other words, this mission requires an investment of time. It’s work. And you can’t devote time to species A if you spend too much time on species B. So you prioritize.

Impatiens capensis is another species that is heavily used by hummingbirds in late summer. Seed collection of this species is fun. If people reading this comment have collected seed of Impatiens capensis then they will understand how it got the common name spotted touch-me-not.

As you know, I collected seed of Silene virginica years ago. Pete Jackson spread the seed in an area where they would be likely to thrive after invasive species had been removed. However, I do not know if anything ever resulted from this effort. Maybe Pete will comment on the results.

I have noticed that Silene virginica is partial to slopes. Consequently, I am not sure good habitat for Silene virginica is available at Somme.

James, thanks for thoughtful comments. How can you resist checking how those seeds you planted are doing?
As for slopes, you may be right, but the stands I found at Deer Grove, Reed-turner, and Palos were all on fairly level ground, so it may have a variety of niches that work for it.

I checked the area where the seeds were sown for a few years afterwards, but I have not followed up recently. One of the problems is I only collected the seed and did not personally sow it. I am not sure exactly where to look. Stewards often insist on sowing seeds or planting plugs personally, or with a select group, which makes evaluating the results of my efforts very difficult.

I think one of the reasons most of the Silene virginica plants I have seen are partial to slopes is because these areas have maintained a more open condition and the ground is less covered with leaves than the more level areas. I know Dale Shields established some plants from seed on less sloping ground just upslope of an intermittent stream. Dale likely was successful because the area where he sowed his seed was receiving management that was not yet occurring in other areas.

A thought just came to me, regarding counting seed. In the microbiology world, counting bacterial colonies on an agar plate is among the most important, but most tedious tasks. so much so that there are numerous very expensive photographic counting machines.

of late, with the ubiquity of the smartphone, lightweight free alternatives are becoming available. among them,

I have no idea whether this will work for seeds, but it stands to reason that any reasonably small, granular objects against a contrasting background should work..

let me know if you try it!

On my Southern Ohio property, Silene virginica is found in the floodplains of small, high gradient headwater tributaries. Associate species include most of those you listed as belonging to the conservative classic woodland community. Population numbers have remained relatively constant over the past 30 years. Except for the removal of invasives from the property, most of my management activities have been directed toward the more open prairies and barrens. Now that those areas are beginning to manage on their own, it may be wise for me to pay more attention to Fire Pink and its associates. Thanks for an interesting article.

Steve, I’d suspect that attention to fire pink in those headwaters would be interesting. I wonder if those floodplains need management beyond removing invasives. Are the trees oaks? If so, are they reproducing? Do you burn them?

The floodplains contain a mix of deciduous species and Eastern Red Cedar. Sycamore and Sugar Maple are common near the creek. Oaks become more common as you head up the slopes away from the floodplain. The oaks are reproducing and are rapidly increasing their numbers. They have no trouble becoming established in the open fields. When fallen trees create a woodland opening, I manually control competing maple and ash in order to give the oaks a chance to become established.

In 30 years of management, I have not used fire on this property. My management techniques are tailored to private landowners who deal with limited time, finances and labor force. In Ohio, a landowner cannot legally just go out and burn his field. The burning laws require that any field burn be conducted by a trained burn team under the direction of a certified burn leader. The logistics and expense of conducting a burn under these constraints makes it impractical for a landowner to use this type of management.

I am also not convinced that burning results in the maximum diversity of native flora and fauna in the type of habitats found in this area. What we have here is not the same as the expansive deep soiled prairies to the west. Burning our local prairie patches certainly changes the floristic expression on a site in a way that mimics the response to fire of an overgrown Northern Illinois prairie, but there are a number of species endemic to our local sites that are not found in the west. I have learned that many of these are intolerant of fire and are being eliminated from some sites. It has also not been proven that fire played an historical role in maintaining Southern Ohio prairies and barrens. Representatives from state agencies and conservation organizations have argued that I should burn, despite my apparent success in using other methods. I argue that since they are using fire on all of their sites, it is of little consequence if I exclude fire on my own small property.

I cannot imagine trying to manually control the maple and ash trees from over taking the oak forests in our local forest preserves and parks. For us the only economical way to maintain the ecosystem is by returning the historic fire regime.

Steve Wilson and James McGee both make compelling points about fire. Certainly it’s valuable to compare a variety of management regimes. It would be so good to compare long-term studies of different management regimes for similar sites. People assume that “institutions” or “funded scientists” will do them. But often professionals have less ability to do “pure” and long-term ecosystem research than do plain, dedicated, curious individuals.
I was actually impressed to hear from Steve that “Representatives from state agencies and conservation organizations have argued that I should burn.” I can remember when little stewardship burning was done in southern Ohio. Thirty years ago there was strong prejudice against it from many. I’d love to learn more about what results have been, especially in the southern Ohio oak woods.

Thanks for sharing! This incredibly human story is so inspiring, and it brings me hope the we human beings can fulfill our own niche, just like the hummingbird.

I performed a “visual calculation” of your photo, and I think you have between 4,000 to 5,000 seeds.

One think I have heard about the pink family (and also the brassicas) is that these plant families eschew mycorrhizal association – implying they might tend to grow in microbially sparse soils. Maybe this plays some role in the eco-equation. It would be interesting to compare this aspect for the other associate plants you mention. Perhaps these woodland species also intermingle with tree species that foster a leaner microbiology? Juniperus, Juglans, Carya? Now I am purely speculating.

Michael, I appreciate your speculation because I know that you move from speculation to research and experimentation at the drop of a hat, or quicker. Let us know what you find. Many people suspect that some of the impressive patchy diversity of healthy nature reflects unseen patchy diversity of soil organisms.

Strategies for Stewards: from woods to prairies Eco-restoration in tallgrass savanna, prairie, woods, and wetlands – inviting input from all – especially people participating in this newborn ]]>