Soapwort (Bouncing Bet)

Saponaria officinalis
Caryophyllaceae (pinks, carnations)

Perennial with simple or branched stems, often forming large colonies. Flowers in tight or open groups (cymes), subtended by leafy bracts. Flowers typical of the pink or carnation family: calyx (the sepals) join to form a long, slender tube; petals 5, each with 1 rounded notch, white or pink, showy, with a delightful fragrance. Blooms June-October. Leaves opposite, elliptical to lance-shaped, hairless, to 8 inches long.

Height: about 2 feet.
Habitat and conservation: 
Occurs on banks of streams, rivers, and spring branches; also old fields, pastures, fencerows, old homesites, gardens, railroads, roadsides, and open, disturbed areas. Native of Eurasia, introduced worldwide. A familiar roadside wildflower, often forming large colonies that are difficult to eradicate, partly because of the toughness of the rhizomes. Cultivars with fancy forms and colors are common in gardens and may persist at old homesites.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Scattered to common nearly statewide; less abundant in northern counties.
Human connections: 
This plant is called soapwort because it contains a mucilaginous juice that forms lather in water. In the past, the leaves were often used for soap. The seeds also contain these saponins and are poisonous. Plants with "officinalis" in the scientific name usually had medicinal uses in the past.
Ecosystem connections: 
Although some butterflies and moths visit, soapwort's flowers aren't very attractive to insects. Mammals tend not to eat the foliage because of the toxic saponins in the sap. This plant is also weedy, even invasive. Where it outcompetes valuable native plants, soapwort is a problem.
Shortened URL