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     Silene acaulis was one of the primary alpine plants studied in the early 1950s in Rocky Mountain National Park by Robert Griggs.  (See his 1956, "Competition and Succession on a Rocky Mountain Fellfield".)  He based his study on the premise that "only when we understand the ecology of individual arctic or alpine species can we synthesize an understanding of arctic-alpine vegetation".  His studies helped reveal the intricate complexity of arctic-alpine vegetation.

The first species he discussed in "Competition and Succession..." (and with more detail than for any other species) was Silene acaulis.  Following are a few of his revealing observations about Silene acaulis:
1) Silene acaulis occurs in almost all arctic and alpine habitats throughout the northern hemisphere as far south as Arizona and Rome and as far north in Greenland at latitude 83 degrees, within twenty-five miles of the most northern growing of any plant.
2) In Rocky Mountain National Park (and to varying degrees elsewhere) Silene acaulis is a pioneer species, coming in as the "most aggressive" plant after land is disturbed.
3) For a tundra plant, Silene acaulis grows "fairly rapidly" in denuded disturbed areas, commonly (in Rocky Mountain National Park) to ten inches in diameter in about twenty years.  But when in competition with other established plants it typically grows to about six inches in diameter.  (On Mount Washington Silene acaulis tussocks are not more than about six inches in diameter, but in some coastal areas of Alaska they are twenty inches in diameter.) 
4) In Europe, Silene acaulis cushions of twenty inches in diameter have been estimated to be one hundred years old.
5) Studies by Schroeder showed that the roots of Silene acaulis penetrate to a depth of three to six feet.  Some other tundra plants have even deeper roots.
6) Most pioneering species of the tundra reproduce by seeds and it is the cushion of Silene acaulis that very often provides rooting ground for these seeds.  Interestingly, Griggs found that the invader species rarely provided rooting ground for the seeds of Silene acaulis.

Silene acaulis

Silene acaulis

Silene acaulis (Moss Campion) and Phlox condensata (Alpine Phlox)

Silene acaulis

Silene acaulis

 
Silene acaulis variety subacaulescens (Moss Campion) 
Caryophyllaceae (Pink Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Madden Peak, June 23, 2004 and Columbia Basin, June 22, 2010.

Moss Campion grows on alpine tundra in spreading tufts of moss-like green.  Barely above the tight cushion of tiny leaves, an array of five-petaled pink/lavender flowers arises and, with normal precipitation, often completely covers the green cushion. 

Silene acaulis is commonly found near white Alpine Phlox and various white Chickweeds, all very tiny plants with masses of very tiny flowers, very tiny leaves, and very pleasant fragrances.  

The Silene genus was named by Linnaeus in 1753, and the name is, according to the Flora of North America, "probably derived from "Silenus", the intoxicated foster father of the Greek god Bacchus, [god of wine] who was described as covered with foam; perhaps this alludes to the viscid secretion covering many species [in the Silene  genus]".  

In 1753 Linnaeus named this species Cucubalus acaulis.  The present name, Silene acaulis, was given in 1762 and is variously ascribed to either Linnaeus or Joseph von Jacquin. 

"A caulis", Latin and Greek for "without stem", is common botanical nomenclature and a fairly common specific epithet.

Silene acaulis

Silene acaulis

Silene acaulis

Silene acaulis variety subacaulescens (Moss Campion)
Caryophyllaceae (Pink Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Madden Peak, June 23, 2004,
Spiller/Helmet Ridge, July 11, 2006,
and Columbia Basin, June 22, 2010.

Leaves are short, bright green, and very narrow.  Flower petals are notched, i.e., "pinked", on their tips -- thus the common family name, Pink Family.

Silene acaulis

Silene acaulis variety subacaulescens (Moss Campion)
Caryophyllaceae (Pink Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Below Spiller/Helmet Ridge, July 11, 2006.

Silene acaulis is a lovely, common, and wide-spread plant found throughout mountainous western Canada, the United States, and much of Europe.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Silene acaulis