A perennial herb of shallow, well-drained, light calcareous soils. As a native plant, it is confined to Breckland grass-heaths and roadsides, where open, disturbed ground provides sites for seedlings. Mature plants can survive for a while in denser swards, but are eventually excluded. It occurs elsewhere as a casual. Lowland.
S. otites has declined significantly since 1930, the chief causes being agricultural intensification and afforestation. The map shows a contraction since the 1962 Atlas but its distribution is more or less stable at present.
European Temperate element, with a continental distribution in W. Europe.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 18
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: -0.36
RDB Species Accounts
Silene otites (L.) Wibel (Caryophyllaceae)
Status in Britain: LOWER RISK - Near Threatened.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
Native sites for S. otites in Britain are now confined to the East Anglian Breckland. It grows on shallow, light, calcareous soils on grass-heaths and roadside verges, where it may be locally abundant. It is favoured by low, open vegetation where disturbance produces plenty of open ground for seed germination and seedling development. Associates include Festuca ovina, Galium verum, Koeleria macrantha and Plantago lanceolata and, frequently, Breckland specialities including Medicago minima, M. sativa ssp. falcata, Phleum phleoides, Silene conica and Veronica verna.
It is a more or less dioecious perennial, female plants lacking stamens and male plants sometimes bearing a few hermaphrodite flowers, though these usually these have only a vestigial ovary. The loose spikes of pale greenish-yellow flowers appear from June to September. Mature plants are deeply rooted and can withstand the low summer rainfall, but spring droughts frequently kill young seedlings. Plants may survive for a time in taller swards by reproducing vegetatively, but ultimately succumb if competition becomes too intense.
S. otites has declined significantly in both range and abundance since the 1920s when W.G.Clarke wrote "the greenish spikes of the Spanish Catchfly are about as thick as a hay crop on some heaths." Many of those heaths have been ploughed up or afforested. The range has further contracted since 1960, but the population now seems more or less stable overall. The Suffolk Breck remains the stronghold for this species with about 21 sites (Leonard 1993), but elsewhere there are only five other extant native sites, three in Norfolk and two in Cambridgeshire. Casual plants are recorded occasionally from other parts of the country, and one female plant at Ainsdale NNR in Lancashire has persisted for several years. All its Breckland sites are on SSSIs, County Wildlife Sites or Protected Roadside Verges and thus have a degree of security so long as they are appropriately managed.
This species is widespread throughout Europe, extending from Iberia northwards to Britain, and eastwards to Poland, the Caucasus, northern Iran and Siberia. It is common in eastern, central and southern Europe, but is very local in the northern parts of its range. It is a variable species, which has been divided by some authorities into a number of separate taxa.
S. otites is the sole larval food plant of the Viper's Bugloss moth Hadena irregularis which, in Britain, was restricted to Breckland (Haggett 1952). It has not been seen since 1977, despite much searching during systematic surveys, and is presumed to be extinct.
PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Atlas text references
Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols,
, Königstein, (1986)
Jalas & Suominen (1986)
Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols,
, Jena, (1965)
British Red Data Books. 1. Vascular plants, edn 3,
, Peterborough, (1999)