Soapwort, or bouncing bet, is a European immigrant that has now naturalized over much of North America. Soapwort was brought over by the colonists to be used as a soap substitute. When bruised or boiled in water, the leaves produce a lather with detergent properties that even removes grease. The genus name refers to the Latin word sapo, meaning "soap."
Description of soapwort: Soapwort has stout, 24-inch stems, swollen at the joints and oval, opposite leaves. It bears pink or white 1-inch flowers in clusters, each with 5 united petals that are especially fragrant at night. Soapwort ease of care: Easy.
How to grow soapwort: Saponarias want good, well-drained soil in full sun, but they will also do well in a moist spot.
Propagating soapwort: By division or by seed.
Uses for soapwort: Saponarias are useful in the wild garden, in the bed or border, and even to carpet a slope or bank.
Soapwort related species: Saponaria ocymoides, or the rock soapwort, is a branching, trailing plant for the edge of the border or a rock wall, needing full sun and good drainage. Plants are usually 6 inches tall and covered in June with 5-petaled rose-pink flowers. 'Alba' has white flowers, and 'Splendens' bears deep rose-pink blossoms on 4-inch plants.
Soapwort related variety: 'Rubra Plena' is a form with double pink flowers.
Scientific name for soapwort: Saponaria officinalisWant more gardening information? Try: