12 Interesting Facts About Maltese Cross

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The Maltese Cross flower, also known as the Jerusalem cross or flower of Bristol, is a unique and eye-catching plant. With its bright red blooms shaped in a distinctive cross pattern, it’s easy to see where this plant got its common name.

The Maltese Cross has a long history and its symbolic cross shape carries cultural meaning across different societies. Beyond its visual appeal and historic significance, this hardy plant also has some surprising facts about its care and cultivation.

Here are 12 fascinating facts about the Maltese Cross plant:

Lychnis chalcedonica, Maltese Cross Plant
Lychnis chalcedonica, Maltese Cross Plant by DBPerko is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 ccbync.

1. Its botanical name has changed over time

Originally, the Maltese Cross was known by the botanical name Lychnis chalcedonica. However, recent taxonomic studies have recommended changing its classification to Silene chalcedonica instead. This name change reflects its close genetic ties to other plants in the Silene genus.

2. The flowers can be red, white, or pink

While bright scarlet blooms may be the most common, Maltese Cross plants can also produce white or pale pink flowers. Red cultivars are still the most popular for their vibrant, eye-catching color.

3. It has symbolic meaning in Christianity

With its distinctive cross shape, it’s no surprise this flower has come to carry religious meaning for some Christians who view it as a representation of the crucifixion cross. The plant is also known as the Jerusalem cross for this reason.

4. It grows wild in parts of Asia and Europe

Native populations of the Maltese Cross grow across central and Eastern Europe as well as parts of Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and northwestern China where it thrives on grassy plains and meadows.

5. The blooms were used to repel witches

In medieval times, it was common to plant Maltese Cross flowers around cottages and village borders to ward off witches and evil spirits. The bright red color was thought to scare away these dark forces.

6. It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies

With its tubular, nectar-rich blooms, the Maltese Cross is an attractive source of food for pollinators like hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. Planting it can help draw these helpful creatures to your garden.

7. It symbolizes courage and bravery

In many Western cultures, the Maltese Cross is a symbol of exceptional courage and bravery in the face of great danger, which is why it was adopted as an emblem by groups like firefighters and the Knights Hospitaller.

8. The plant thrives in full sun

While many plants wilt in the summer heat, the Maltese Cross flourishes under full sunlight. For the best growth and maximum flowers, plant it where it can bask in sunlight for most of the day.

9. It features unique star-shaped seed pods

Once the flowers fade away, distinctive star-shaped seed pods emerge, splitting open when ripe to scatter the next generation of seeds to grow new Maltese Cross plants.

10. The leaves can be used to make tea

In addition to cheery floral displays, the Maltese Cross also offers some practical uses. Its leaves can be dried and used to make an herbal medicinal tea that tastes slightly spicy.

11. It self-seeds readily under the right conditions

If happy in its location, Maltese Cross plants will self-seed freely, sprouting up new seedlings each year. These baby plants can be transplanted to expand your Maltese Cross collection.

12. Related plants include rose campion and dusty miller

While the Maltese Cross flower may seem unusual, it is actually part of the larger carnation plant family. Some close cousins include popular garden plants like rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) and dusty miller (Lychnis coronata).


With its striking red blooms and symbolic cross shape, the Maltese Cross plant has a visual and cultural appeal like no other flower. This hardy plant also attracts pollinators, makes flavorful tea, and self-seeds with abandon under the right growing conditions. Whether adding Gothic charm to your cottage garden or providing cut flowers with an ancient legend, the Maltese Cross is one fascinating and versatile plant.

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