Soapwort

Boas in Florida. Gypsy moth in the East. Emerald ash borer in the East. Japanese honeysuckle in Missouri. Kudzu in the South. Invading species get a lot of press lately. Invading species are nothing new.

For years I’ve enjoyed seeing the soapwort bloom along our creek. The name means soap plant so I assume it can be used for soap.

soapwort flower stalk

Soapwort flowers stick out in all directions from the top of a stalk.

The plants send up a tall stalk two feet then cover the top with flowers. These vary from pinkish white to pink around here. I hear some are red but have never seen any.

These flowers have a base tube then the petals spread out with stamens sticking out. Other flowers that do this are Royal Catchfly and Deptford pink.

soapwort flowers

Soapwort’s pale colors, dislike of hot sun and few insect visitors indicate these flowers are pollinated by moths at night.

Clothes get cleaner when washed in soap as do lots of other things. Greasy dishes come to mind. Colonists and later pioneers could make lye soap.

I’ve had some lye soap. It’s great for countering the initial attack of poison ivy or oak. It’s very harsh.

Making lye soap depended on having a source of lard usually butchered pigs in the fall and a source of lye often filtered out of wet ashes. The fall supply had to last all year.

If the soap supply ran out, soapwort came to the rescue. Boiling or infusing warm water with soapwort roots produced a mild soap. That was soapwort’s ticket to the New World along with dandelions used for food.

soapwort flower

Soapwort flowers don’t last very long, maybe a day. They fade quickly in hot sun.

Now soapwort is just a pretty wildflower blooming along the creek.