Botanical name: Lychnis
Family: Caryophyllaceae (Pink)
Origin: N. Temperate and Artic Zones
Display period: June, July
Height: 18-20 inches
Environment: Sun; partial shade
Coming across the popular names of some of the species of lychnis arouses interest in the plants before they are even seen. An old-fashioned favorite, it has been around for 300 years or so, yet all that's known about the individual who introduced it is that he was Russian.
Lychnis, because of its flamed-colored flowers (the principal hue of the genus), the shape of the seed capsule and the woolly leaves of one species that in ancient times served as wicks, takes its name from "lychnos," the Greek word for lamp.
Catchfly, the common name of the genus, owes its origin to the somewhat sticky nature of the stems and leaves, which were said to trap insects.
Popular names for L. chalcedonica, a plant reportedly brought home from the Crusades, include Jersualem Cross; Maltese Cross, denoting the cross-like configuration of the blossoms; and Scarlet Lightning, a reference to the fiery brilliance of the flowers. The species name derives from Chalcedonia, an ancient city at the mouth of the Bosphorus.
One nursery catalog describes the Arkwright lychnis, a hybrid, as "one of the most spectacularly colorful plants we know." And, indeed, with its orangey-red flowers contrasted with purple-toned foliage, it grabs attention, upstaging practically all other flowers and resisting attempts to integrate it in a landscape scheme.
Lychnis is easy to grow if given well-drained, humus-enriched soil. Without it, plants may be short-lived. Pinching stimulates bushiness. If stems are cut back promptly after blooming, a second crop of flowers may be produced in the fall.
Lychnis grows readily from seed and often regenerates itself by that means once established. If started early enough indoors, plants should blossom the same season. They may also be propagated by dividing them every third year.