Icelandic Pinks

“Pinks” in this case refers to plants in the pinks family, Caryophyllaceae, so named not for the color but for the jagged edges on the petals (in some species), which look as though they’ve been cut with pinking shears.

The Caryophyllaceae is a cosmopolitan family, and a big one, with over 2,000 species in 80 genera. The genus Silene is said to be the largest genus in the family; on-line sources list anywhere from 300 to 700 species in it.

There are five species of Silene in Iceland, though you may only find three in many sources; the two others are Lychnis species that have recently been renamed. There are about a dozen in Maryland, of which only four are native.

Silene acaulis
moss campion; cushion pink
Icelandic: lambagras


This plant grows almost everywhere in Iceland except on the glaciers. It’s similar in form to our native S. caroliniana ssp. pensylvanica (wild pink):

The flowers of the Icelandic species are smaller, and although the plant itself can be sprawling, overall the leaves and blossoms are quite compact. Wild pink is more open, and doesn’t grow as large.



Silene dioica
red campion
Icelandic: dagstjarna


Native to subarctic Fennoscandia, red campion can be found as an introduced species in both Iceland and North America (Canada and about half of the US). In Iceland it occurs in only a few lowland areas; I found it near Akureyri and Ólafsfjörður.



Silene suecica
formerly Lychnis alpina,
Viscaria alpina
alpine catchfly, alpine campion
Icelandic: ljósberi



Not quite as common as S. acaulis, but still pretty widespread. Its native range includes northeastern Canada, Greenland, and Fennoscandia. I found both the white and pink forms near Húsafell.

Silene uniflora
formerly Silene maritima ssp. islandica
sea campion
Icelandic: holurt


Although widely available in the nursery trade in the US, S. uniflora is endemic to Iceland. It’s easy to identify because there’s nothing quite like it. It’s common in the central highlands as well as much of the lowlands. I saw it near Ísafjorður, Akureyri, and Húsafell.20140702-DSC_0008


Just for fun, here’s the other Silene I’ve found in the Maryland Piedmont: S. stellata (starry campion), which should be blooming now. Maybe I’ll go hunting for it and try to get better pictures.

The Rose Family in Iceland, Part 3: Avens

Here are two gorgeous members of the Rosaceae found in Iceland.


Dryas octopetala
mountain avens
Icelandic: holtasóley


Iceland’s national flower is the blossom of this low-growing evergreen shrub, which is found in arctic and sub-arctic regions around the world, and further south at higher elevations. It can be found almost everywhere in Iceland. In the US it can be found growing above tree line in the Cascades and Rocky Mountains (and in Alaska of course). An article by the USDA Forest Service mentions this species’ importance to paleoecologists (there are a lot of Dryas fossils lying about), and also how this plant has an interesting twist on heliotropism (plant movement in response to sunlight):

Most plants that have similar abilities do so to reduce the amount of solar radiation striking their flowers or leaves. In Dryas, the flowers do the opposite, moving to maximize the amount of sunlight reflecting off the petals and onto the mass of pistils at the center of the flower.



Geum rivale
water avens
Icelandic: fjalldalafífill


Water avens is another circumpolar species, though it ranges much farther south than mountain avens. In North America it’s found in Greenland, Canada, and in the US, in New England, the upper Midwest, and as far south as New Mexico along the Rocky Mountains. BONAP shows it growing along a spine of the Appalachians in West Virginia. USDA Plants shows it present in Maryland but without county data, and it’s listed in Maryland Biodiversity Project but has no records. I’d guess there’s a small chance it could be found in the western parts of the state, since it’s been recorded on either side of Garret County in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  In Iceland it’s found in the coastal areas and somewhat inland, but not in the south.

mountain avens growing with Alchemilla glomerulans, Ranunculus species, and Equisetum species near Akureyri




It’s hard to describe how eye-catching these flowers are, with the red-purple sepals and salmon-pink petals and all those stamens poking out. I hope these pictures do it justice.

There are over 250 species of Geum worldwide, about 20 in the US, and about six in the state of Maryland, one of which, Geum canadense, is blooming now.