Soapwort, Bouncing Bet – Flowers

(Saponaria officinalis)

Pink family

Flowers—Pink or whitish, fragrant, about 1 inch broad, loosely clustered at end of stem, also sparingly from axils of upper leaves. Calyx tubular, 5-toothed, about 3/4 in. long ; 5 petals, the claws inserted in deep tube. Stamens lo, in 2 sets; 1 pistil with 2 styles. Flowers frequently double. Stem: 1 to 2 ft. high, erect, stout, sparingly branched: leafy. Leaves: Opposite, acutely oval, 2 to 3 in. long, about 1 in. wide, 3 to 5 ribbed. Fruit: An oblong capsule, shorter than calyx, opening at top by 4 short teeth or valves.

Preferred Habitat—Roadsides, banks, and waste places. Flowering Season—June—September.

Distribution—Generally common. Naturalized from Europe.

A stout, buxom, exuberantly healthy lassie among flowers is Bouncing Bet, who long ago escaped from gardens whither she was brought from Europe, and ran wild beyond colonial farms to roadsides, along which she has travelled over nearly our entire area. Underground runners and abundant seed soon form thrifty colonies. This plant, to which our grandmothers ascribed healing virtues, makes a cleansing, soap-like lather when its bruised leaves are agitated in water.

Butterflies, which delight in bright colors and distinct markings, find little to charm them here ; but the pale shade of pink or white, easily distinguished in the dark, and the fragrance, strongest after sunset, effectively advertise the flower at dusk when its benefactors begin to fly. The sphinx moth, a frequent visitor, works as rapidly in extracting nectar from the deep tube as any hawk moth, so frequently mistaken for a humming-bird. The little cliff-dwelling bees (Halictus), among others, visit the flowers by day for pollen only. At first five outer stamens protrude slightly from the flower and shed their pollen on the visitor, immediately over the entrance. Afterward, having spread apart to leave the entrance free, the path is clear for the five inner stamens to follow the same course. Now the styles are still enclosed in the tube ; but when there is no longer fear of self-fertilization–that is to say, when the pollen has all been carried off, and the stamens have withered—up they come and spread apart to expose their rough upper surfaces to pollen brought from younger flowers by the moths.