Dienstag, 2. Oktober 2012

Plant of the Day (October 2nd, 2012) - Saponaria officinalis L.

Today's “Plant of the Day” is Saponaria officinalis L. from the Caryophllaceae family (sub-family: Silenoideae). This species is known as “Gewöhnliches Seifenkraut” in German, while common English names are “Soapwort”, “Bouncing Bet” and “Sweet William”.

 S. officinalis. - habitus

It's a perennial plant (Hemicryptophyte), which can reach heights between 40 and 80 centimetres (15.8 to 31.5 inches). The stalk grows upright from a well branched rhizome. In the most cases, the stalk is bald but a few hairs are also possible. The leaves are lanceolate to egg-shaped and have three, distinctive leaf-veins. They are arranged in a decussate leaf-pattern.

The inflorescences are fake umbels (stalked and very dense arranged flowers; also called Dichasium in Botany). However, non-flowering stalks are also possible. The sepals are green with a red tip. The petals are red but sometimes also white (like in my pictures) and have a lobed margin. In some cases, there are also some black spots on the petals. This is a parsitic fungus, which infests the flower. Flowering time is between June and September (October). The ripe fruit is a capsule with many, black seed and opens in October.

S. officinalis - inflorescence

S, officinalis is native to Europe and Eurasia but can also be found as Neophyte in North America. It prefers fresh, nutrient-rich soils on sand or gravel, which are not to acidic and not to calcareous. So, it can be found e. g. at riverbanks, on ruderal wastelands or rocky slopes. It's a very common species in Europe but very rare in mountainous regions.

All parts of the plant (especially the rhizome) contain Saponins, which are the raw material of soap. Dissolving these plant parts in water leads to foam. So, S. officinalis was used as natural replacement for soap, what is also the reason for the name “Soapwort”. But this species is also a medicinal plant. The Sarponins also have a expectorant effect and were used to cure bronchitis and cough. However, an overdose of Sarponins leads to vomitting

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