The coastal habitats of this long-lived perennial herb are grassy cliffs, sand dunes and shingle. Inland, it grows on limestone rock outcrops and cliff ledges. S. nutans is mainly a plant of shallow, drought-prone, calcareous soils on chalk and limestone, but it also occurs on acidic soil overlying shingle. It has occurred as a casual at ports and on railway banks. Reproduction is usually by seed, but can be vegetative by procumbent stems rooting at the nodes. Lowland.
There has been little change in the coastal distribution of this species, but it has declined inland since the 1962 Atlas.
Eurosiberian Temperate element.
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Light (Ellenberg): 8
Moisture (Ellenberg): 3
Reaction (Ellenberg): 8
Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 4
Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0
January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 4.3
July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 15.7
Annual Precipitation (mm): 883
Height (cm): 80
Perennation - primary
Life Form - primary
Clonality - primary
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 52
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 10
Atlas Change Index: -0.39
Scarce Atlas Account
Silene nutans L.
This is a plant of chalk and limestone grassland and open communities, usually on shallow, well-drained soils. It is normally found on calcareous rock outcrops but it grows in acidic soil over shingle. In Britain it is characteristic of coastal cliffs, sandbanks and, especially, shingle beaches. It is locally very abundant, as on parts of the coast of Hampshire and Kent.
S. nutans is a long-lived perennial with floral adaptation for outcrossing. The drooping flowers are inconspicuous by day, with the perianth-lobes rolled inwards. In the evening they unroll and the flowers are conspicuous and fragrant, attracting moths. The flowers, which are markedly protandrous (Proctor & Yeo 1973), are produced from May to July. Although it usually spreads by seed, fallen stems root readily at the nodes (Hepper 1956).
S. nutans is apparently one of the species which spread in post-glacial times but now survives only in open habitats. It is still widespread in its stronghold on the coasts of southern and south-eastern England from East Devon to East Kent. However, it has declined in its scattered inland stations and is now extinct at Nottingham Castle where it was first recorded by John Ray before 1670.
The species occurs over most of Europe, southwards to central Spain, Calabria and Macedonia; in northern Europe to Finland and Sweden (Jalas & Suominen 1986); and outside Europe it occurs through Siberia as far east as Lake Baikal (Meusel, Jager & Weinert 1965).
It is extremely variable, with several regional variants having been recognised at different ranks. The robust British plants have been called subsp. smithiana (Jeanmond & Bocquet 1983), but do not seem to be separable from subsp. nutans.
J. R. Akeroyd
Atlas text references
1956. Biological Flora of the British Isles. No. 59. Silene nutans L. Journal of Ecology. 44:693-700.
1986. Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Jalas & Suominen (1986)
1965. Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols.
1994. Scarce plants in Britain.