Silene burchellii

Click on an image to enlarge it.
Botanical Name
Silene burchellii
Caryophyllaceae - The Pink or Carnation family.
sy-LEE-nee bur-CHELL-ee-eye
Common Name(s)
English: Gunpowder Plant; Burchell's campion
IsiXhosa: iyeza lehasheH
Sesotho: Molokoloko Moloku; Mololokwana
siSwati: igwayintombe elincane; injuju; umthusi
Plant Group
  • Perennial A plant whose life cycle lasts for three or more seasons.
  • Veld Flower Small veld flowers of interest, rather than for their usefulness in the garden. Some of these plants have garden potential, particularly for less formal garden situations.
Plant Size
  • Small
    Tree4m to 8m
    Shrub50cm to 75cm
    Perennial/ground cover10cm to 20cm
    Bulb20cm to 30cm
    Succulent10cm to 20cm
  • Partial Shade The area is in shade for part of the day and in full sun for part of the day.
  • Sun The area is in full sun for all or most of the day, all year round.
General Information
  • Drought Tolerance: High The plant is well adapted to arid conditions; it can survive long periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Evergreen Plants that have leaves all year round.
  • Frost: Half-hardy The plant is able to survive low temperatures and some frost but requires protection against severe frost.
  • Water Wise Plant species originating from low rainfall regions that require less water to survive and thrive than other plant species.
Specific Information

Silene burchellii is a perennial herb growing to a height of 25 cm, with narrow, lance-shaped leaves, most of which are found at the base of the plant and lower half of the slender stems. Leaves are 2 - 4 cm long and around 5 mm wide.  The upper part of stem holds a few widely spaced pairs of small leaves ending in spike of well-spaced flowers, usually arranged to one side. The large tubular calyx, up to 2 cm long, is attractively ribbed with darker veins.  Flowers may be 12 to 20 mm across and consist of 5 deeply notched petals that open wide, at times even turning back over the calyx. Flowers open in the evening and fade by noon the following day. The fruits are elliptical in shape and are covered with the persistent calyx which only falls away after the capsules have dried and opened to disperse the seeds. The pointed capsule splits open and the tips of the segments fold back. The numerous seeds are shaken out over time as the slender stems are blown in the wind and when the dried stems collapse on the ground a small distance away from the mother plant. The common name Gunpowder Plant relates to the seeds, which are small, grey and rounded.

Silene burchellii is a highly variable species with at least eight recorded sub-species, only five of which are found in South Africa, namely, subsp. angustifolia, subsp. modesta, subsp. multiflora​, ​subsp. burchellii, and subsp. pilosellifolia.

The photographs accompanying this data are those of ​Silene burchellii subsp. angustifolia

Ad Break

flowers are 12 - 20 mm across, with five deeply notched petals which open wide or turn back on a long calyx, held well spaced along one side of slender stems

  • Spring to Summer Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • pink
  • pale pink
  • white
Growth Rate
  • Moderate to Fast Specifying growth rate can be very misleading as there is considerable variation of growth rate depending on type and species of plant, available water, supplementary feeding, mulching and general care, as well as the plants suitability and adaptability to the garden environment.
Plant Uses
  • Attracts bees, butterflies or other insects This plant attracts insects which can be food for birds or other creatures in your garden.
  • Wild Garden An indigenous garden planted for the benefit of wildlife and birds. Provides food, water, a variety of mini-biomes and no poisonous chemicals are used.
Distribution and Habitat

in all the provinces of South Africa, as well as in Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Angola and further north along the eastern half of Africa, with small communities in Arabia, in grasslands, Savanna, open bushveld and mountainous regions

Planting Suggestions

Gunpowder Plants prefer moderately fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny position.

Medicinal Uses

Used by some cultures as a love charm and medicinally for scrofula and as a tonic.

Ad Break

Discuss this plant

Share knowledge, ask a question or give an experience.

Bottom Border