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England: Catchfly plants may trap insects, but they dont use them
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Question: I recently saw a reference to a plant with the common name "catchfly." Is this the same as a Venus flytrap?

Answer: Catchfly is a common name usually referring to the genus Silene. Many plants in this genus have hairy stems and exude a sticky substance that sometimes traps insects, at least temporarily.

The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is not related to the catchfly. Unlike the Venus flytrap, the catchfly does not gain any food value from the occasional insect that accidentally gets caught on its sticky stems.

The Silene genus contains more than 500 species of herbaceous annuals, biennials and perennials with native ranges widely distributed throughout temperate and cold regions of the northern hemisphere. Members of the genus typically have five-petalled flowers that bloom in late spring or summer.

Silene is another one of those botanical names apparently derived from Greek mythology. One story describes Silenus, the intoxicated foster father of the god Dionysos, as covered with foam, and someone with a vivid imagination saw a similarity in the sticky secretions of these plants.

Probably the most common member of the Silene genus native to the Eastern United States is S. virginica, or fire pink, which has a dark pink to red bloom. It is sometimes called Indian pink, but there is an unrelated wildflower that also goes by the same common name.

The fringed campion or fringed catchfly (S. polypetala) is a rare and endangered plant found in the wild in only a few counties in southern Georgia and northern Florida. This plant spreads by runners rooting at nodes and has erect flowering stems bearing either white or light pink blossoms.

A hybrid cross between S. virginica and S. polypetala is sometimes available from nurseries. This hybrid fringed campion may go by the name ‘Longwood' or ‘rockin robin.'

The hybrid campion likes partial shade, especially afternoon shade, and well-drained organic soil. It forms an evergreen mound up to 8 inches high and has fringed deep-pink flowers, sometimes flecked with white.

These unique plants make excellent additions to border areas or rock gardens. They seem to be relatively drought tolerant and can be easily propagated by dividing the clumps every few years.

Q: When is the best time to aerate a lawn?

A: The recommended time to aerate lawns is just before the grass begins normal rapid seasonal growth. For warm season grasses such as zoysia and burmudagrass, this is mid to late spring.

Cool season grasses like fescue grow mostly in the fall, so aerate these in late summer or early fall. Fescue also begins a growth spurt in late winter, presenting another good opportunity to aerate it.

Aeration benefits most lawns because they tend to develop heavily compacted soil due to the heavy traffic of walking on and taking care of them. Aeration is simply a way to make holes in the compacted soil so that water, oxygen and nutrients can more easily reach the grass roots.

Two types of aerators are available; one has solid spikes that punch holes in the ground and the other has hollow tines that pull out plugs of earth. The one with the solid spikes is not recommended because it may actually increase soil compaction.

The plug-removing aerator brings soil to the surface that helps decompose accumulated thatch. If you object to the little plugs of dirt all over your lawn you can break them up by dragging a piece of old carpet or mesh fencing over the lawn.

Russ England is a Master Gardener trained and certified in horticulture and related areas through by the Georgia Cooperative Extension. E-mail him your questions.