bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis)
Lychnis saponaria Jessen
Saponaria officinalis L. var. glaberrima Ser.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for bouncing bet
is Saponaria officinalis L.
NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: This introduced perennial plant is about 1–2½' tall and more or
less erect. From the axils of the upper leaves, some short side stems are produced, otherwise it is little branched. The stems are round and hairless.
Leaves: The opposite leaves are up to 4" long and 1¾" across. They are
ovate or broadly lanceolate, smooth along the margins, and hairless. There
are 3 conspicuous veins on the upper surface of the larger leaves. The
leaves are sessile against the stem, other- wise they have short broad petioles.
Flowers: The central stem and some of the uppermost side stems terminate
in small clusters of flowers. Each flower is about ¾–1" across, consisting
of a long cylindrical calyx that is green and a corolla with 5 spreading pet-
als that are white or light pink. The calyx is hairless and about 1" long. At
the base of each petal, there are 2 claws that are small and slender. The 10 stamens are strongly exerted from the throat of the corolla; they are white
with pale yellow anthers. As the flowers age, the petals begin to curve
backward. There is a pleasant floral scent.
Fruit/Seeds: A sack-like capsule of seeds lies within the calyx of each
flower. These seeds are somewhat flat and nearly round along the peri-
meter, with an outer surface that is granular or pebble-like.
Roots: The root system produces abundant orange rhizomes.
REGENERATION PROCESS: This plant propogates by reseeding it-
self and vegetatively through the rhizomes. It often forms colonies.
HABITAT TYPES: Habitats include sloping banks of streams, gravel
bars and sand bars along streams, areas along roadsides and railroads,
prairie remnants along railroads, weedy meadows, and waste areas, and
is still cultivated in flowerbeds and herbal gardens. While this plant is
typically found in disturbed areas, it also occurs in some natural areas.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Bouncing bet prefers full or partial sun
and moist (yet well-drained) to slightly dry conditions. It can thrive in a
variety soil situations (acidic, neutral and alkaline), and can be found in
soil that is loamy, gravelly, or sandy.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period occurs during the
summer and lasts about 2 months.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Bouncing bet is found in all states in the
contiguous United States and all provinces of Canada except the far north-
ern regions and Labrador section of Newfoundland.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: The overall value of bouncing bet to wild-
life is relatively minor. The nectar of the flowers attracts butterflies and
moths, including the butterflies Pontia protodice (checkered white) and Euptoieta claudia (variegated fritillary). Considering the abundance of the flowers, these insect visitors are relatively few. Similarly, the seeds appear
to be of little use by birds as a food source. The bitter-tasting foliage is
high in saponins and toxic to mammalian herbivores. These saponins can
cause gastrointestinal irritation and the breakdown of red blood cells.
Therefore, the foliage is rarely eaten by such animals.
A soap can be obtained by boiling the whole plant (but especially the root)
in water (bouncing bet is an old English term for a laundry woman). It is
a gentle effective cleaner, used especially on delicate fabrics that can be
harmed by modern synthetic soaps (it has been used to clean the Bayeaux
tapestry). It effects a lustre in the fabric.
Bouncing bet is sold as an ornamental.
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