Saponaria officinalis L—Soapwort; bouncing Bet
FAMILY: Caryophyllaceae—the Pink Family (see Agrostemma)
PHENOLOGY: Bouncing Bet flowers from July through September.
DISTRIBUTION: Formerly cultivated, bouncing Bet is now a weed of roadsides, waste places, and along railroads.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: Soapwort is a perennial, often colonizing larger areas by rhizomes: plants grow 4-8 dm and have smooth jointed stems with leaves: opposite, 1-10 cm long x 2-4 cm wide, without petioles, palmately veined (sometimes appearing parallel); flowers: congested, conspicuous, in large terminal clusters; calyx: 1.5-2.5 cm, the 5 1obes triangular with drawn-out tips, the tube often becoming deeply bilobed; corolla: 5 white-or pinkish-appendaged petals; stamens: 10, exsert; styles: 2; capsules: dehiscent by 4 (or 6) teeth; seeds: plump, kidneyshaped, small.
POISONOUS PARTS: The plants, especially the seeds, are poisonous. Laboratory feeding experiments have produced toxicity and death in rabbits. Sheep fed bouncing Bet in an amount equivalent to 3% (dry weight basis) of their weight died within four hours.
SYMPTOMS: Similar to those for Agrostemma.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: A saponin, sapogenin, is similar or equivalent to githagenin found in corncockle.
CONFUSED TAXA: Many species in this family superficially resemble Saponaria. The number of styles is helpful in distinguishing several similar genera. Saponaria has 2 styles; Silene (catchfly, campion) has 3 (or 4) styles; Lychnis (white campion) and Agrostemma (corncockle) have 5 styles.
Some authors separate the annual cow-herb, from the perennial bouncing Bet, calling the annual species Vaccaria segetalis (Neck.) Garake. Others place the annual plants in Saponaria, calling them S. vaccaria L. Regardless of nomenclature, the bouncing Bet has a 20-nerved tubular calyx and appendaged petals, whereas cow-herb has a strongly wing-angled, ovoid calyx and petals lacking appendages. This troublesome weed of grain crops also is considered poisonous.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Both species (bouncing Bet and cow-herb) are unpalatable and generally avoided by animals. No clear cases of poisoning have been recorded in North American literature.
TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (26)
OF INTEREST: In North American folklore' decoctions of Saponaria officinalis were used as poultices to remove discoloration around black or bruised eyes. This plant has been used in European countries as a soap substitute.