Watch Out for Pretty Flowers: Ragged-Robin

photo (7)


“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.”  ~Baba Dioum


I love cruising the back roads of central New York State, where I live, to see the many different wildflowers growing across the fields and along the ditches.  Even driving the NY State Thruway, you can see so many wildflowers, native plants and critters if you look closely.

The last few years I have been noticing a gorgeous pink flower growing in low drifts.  It seems to grow everywhere I look, and is located close to where I work an hour from my house.  I had never had the chance to get a close enough look until recently.  I snapped several pictures and hurried home to open all my wildflower books to find this flower.  I desperately wanted to find what it was so I could find a supplier since I really wanted to add this to my meadow.

No matter what book I searched, I came up empty until I found a few references to a wildflower called ragged-robin.  Then I searched for more photo (11)information and discovered this flower was indeed a wildflower, but not in the US.  Instead it is a beloved wildflower on the decline in Great Britain and Ireland.  It is also found in Russia.

I was so deflated as I only add natives to my meadow and garden.  As I read more about this plant, I found it is listed as naturalized in the northeastern United States after it escaped from home gardens.  It is fast becoming invasive here in the Northeast especially in Connecticut where it is listed as a noxious weed and is banned.

It’s scientific name is Silene flos-cuculi from the family Caryophyllaceae  or the Carnation Family.  It grows along wet meadows and ditches with a profusion of fringed flowers almost aster like.   As I have been observing stands of this plant the last three years, I have noticed it really taking over the roadsides and low-lying farmlands.

photo (10)In the UK this plant is favored by the Common Blue butterfly, hummingbirds and long-tongued bees. Ragged robin is deer-resistant, tolerates a wide variety of moist soil and quickly reseeds all of which adds to its invasive nature.  I did note several bees on this plant, but like many invasive non-native plants it squeezes out native plants in its way.

This plant is still sold in nurseries, and before planting any cultivars please consider a native plant as this plant is hard to control in the garden let alone allowing it to spread into more wild lands.  To eradicate this plant without chemicals, you will need to stop it from reseeding so mowing it before it sets seed will help.  Then you will need to dig it up and throw away all parts of the plant.  But like any aggressive or invasive plant, you will need to get every part of the plant or it will come back.

I am choosing the flowers below for my garden.  I know they are better suited for my gardens and wild areas, and I am building a better habitat by planting them.


Native Plant Alternatives:

Pink Flowers-Wild Geranium, Shooting Star, Bleeding Heart or Dicentra formosa

Wet Meadows-Swamp Milkweed, Cardinal Flower, Blueflag Iris, Turtlehead or Chelone glabra






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  1. says

    Ah Donna, I have learned that so many of what I thought were wildflowers are really invasives. It does pay to look up and do your research rather than assuming it’s a pretty wildflower. I always thought Ladybells were a wildflower, or the Deadly Nightshade, but I learned through posting my “going native” series that these, too, were invasives that have naturalized here. I am glad to now have learned about Ragged Robin. I think our Wild Sweet William or Meadow Phlox (phlox maculata) would also be a beautiful alternative for your meadow and it smells delicious!

  2. Lavender Cottage says

    Excellent article Donna with reasons to grow plants indigenous to localities in our gardens. Unfortunately so many flowers are escaping from homeowners in one way or another. Where I walk our dog each morning there is an area where people have been dumping grass and plants and you should see what has started growing in this wooded site! Some of the things have the potential to become invasive and it’s a shame that this is how it starts sometimes.
    Garden writers/communicators play an important role by informing the public to make informed decisions.

    • says

      Thanks Judith, I agree we have to help the public understand the consequences of their actions. How terrible that people are dumping near a wooded site. Letting plants escape and become invasive can happen so easily.

  3. says

    Unfortunately, many invasives are quite beautiful. Purple loosestrife is a good example. Even creeping charlie was originally used as an ornamental ground cover!

    • says

      So true Jason. I have learned the hard way. Years ago I planted the sterile loosestrife that was still being sold in nurseries…thank goodness it did not survive the shade of my garden.


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