Soapwort Saponaria officinalis




Scientific Name: Saponaria officinalis (Caryophyllaceae). The specific name 'officinalis' indicates that the plant had a use, often medicinal, but can be culinary or other (in this case the plant can be used like soap).


English Name: Soapwort (Campion family). Also Bouncing Bet; Crow Soap; Wild Sweet William; Soapweed; Boston Pink. The suffix 'wort' (pronounced to rhyme with 'Bert' not 'wart')  indicates that the plant has a traditional use, usually medical, but can be culinary or other (in this case, the plant can be used like soap).


French Name: La Saponaire officinale (='medicinal/working suds maker'); also la Savonnaire (='soap maker'), la Savonnière (='soap maker'), la Saponière (='suds maker'), l'Herbe à savon (='soap plant'), l'Herbe à foulon (='fulling plant'), le Savon des fossés (='ditches' soap'), le Savon de fosse (='ditch soap').


5 Key Characters:
  • Clusters of pink flowers about 2.5 cm across.
  • Occurs in patches which can be some metres across.
  • Often found along ditches.
  •  Flowers scented (more strongly at night).
  •  A robust erect plant 30 - 90 cm high.

Lookalikes: Dames-violet Hesperis maronalis, which has darker, toothed leaves and violet flowers.


Habitat: Hedgerows, roadsides, waste ground. Dry rich sites and sand.


Flowering Period: July-August-September.


Status: Quite common and conspicuous.


Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:
Growing around a culvert on the roadside on the outskirts of Preuilly sur Claise.

Close up of flowers.
The stamens of the flower on the right has been infected with a fungus, turning the pollen dark and compromising its functioning. The infected plant doesn't die though, as it will spread by runners as well.

3 comments:

  1. Somewhere up above the "culvert" shot was a wattle&daube house...

    The best example of this is as you approach Abilly....
    either side of the mill, on the embankment opposite are regularly spaced clumps of Soapwort...
    a sign of the ancient community associated with the mill...
    interestingly, on the Abilly side, these coincide with the small millstream side "private" plots.

    Also, I have noticed three different 'types'...
    a pale one as illustrated above...
    a much darker coloured variety and a semi-double one... also darker coloured, where some flowers are double and some are single.

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  2. Tim: This patch is directly opposite the Moulin de Chanvre, quite close to existing buildings.

    I've not noticed any variation in the flowers. I'll keep an eye out for that.

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  3. So it might have been used by the workers at the moulin...
    we've a patch up by the parapet of the bridge over to the forge...
    and another at the opposite end of the plateau it stood on....
    both likely exit points for workers.
    As it is so close to your potager, check to see if there is a change in the colour of the soil local to the patch... the brighter clay from the walls of a wattle&daube house remains a marker for centuries... even in ploughed fields.
    We've got a patch near the road in the PP corner of the potager area... had been ploughed regularly but is still there.
    And there is bright clay in two rectangular patches just the other side of the boundary...
    possibly all homes of workers that were employed in the foundry.
    But there is no Soapwort there to give a definate nod in that direction... but there is some by the road within spitting distance of our well...
    and there is a change in colour of soil in that corner of the field next door.

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