Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide

Bouncingbet or Soapwort: Saponaria officinalis

bouncingbet5-23.jpg (169007 bytes) Weed Description:  A perennial that primarily occurs in pastures and hay fields of Virginia. Often called soapwort because it produces a soapy lather when crushed, this weed was grown by early settlers for use as a cleaning detergent and soap. Bouncingbet was also cultivated during the Industrial Revolution when cloth was first manufactured on a large scale. Bouncingbet was introduced from Europe and is now distributed throughout North America.  Bouncing-bet is perhaps most noticeable when it produces it's showy flowers in September to October.
Leaves: Elliptic, ovate, or lanceolate in outline, with 3 distinct veins or nerves running the length of the leaf.  Leaves range from 1 1/4 to 4 inches in length and from 1/2 to 2 inches in width.  Leaves are without petioles (sessile).

Stems: Erect, 2 to 6 inches tall, usually without hairs.  Stems often produce a soapy lather when crushed.

Flowers:  Occur in clusters at the ends of stems.  Flowers consist of 5 white to pink petals.

Fruit: A long (10-12 mm), elliptical capsule.

Identifying Characteristics:  Plants usually occur in colonies.  Additionally, the 3-nerved leaves and stems that produce a soapy lather are characteristics that help in the identification of bouncingbet prior to flowering.  This weed might be confused with White Campion (Silene alba), which also can form dense colonies in pastures and hay fields, but white campion is covered with hairs unlike bouncingbet.

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