SOAPWORT

& BOUNCING BETT [double flowered form]

Saponaria officinalis

Carnation & Campion (Pink) Family [Caryophyllaceae]  

month8jul month8july month8Aug month8sep month8sept

status
statusZarchaeophyte
 
flower
flower8pink
 
morph
morph8actino
 
petals
petalsZ5
 5 or 10
stem
stem8round
 
toxicity
toxicityZlowish
 

2nd July 2011, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
A large spread next to a railway.


18th Sept 2007, Dukinfield, Ashton Canal, Gtr Manchester. Photo: © RWD
Propellor-like 5-petalled flowers. Lanceolate leaves have a slippery soapy feel.


18th Sept 2007, Dukinfield, Ashton Canal, Gtr Manchester. Photo: © RWD
Slightly asymmetrical petals. Leaves wrinkly, opposite, 3-veined and a pale green.


18th Sept 2007, Dukinfield, Ashton Canal, Gtr Manchester. Photo: © RWD
Petals well clear of the hardly-inflated sepal tube.


18th Sept 2007, Dukinfield, Ashton Canal, Gtr Manchester. Photo: © RWD


18th Sept 2007, Dukinfield, Ashton Canal, Gtr Manchester. Photo: © RWD
Leaves pale green with three prominent veins.


The DOUBLE-FLOWERED 'BOUNCING BETT'

 Mutations Menu

7th September 2005, Walsden, Rochdale Canal. Photo: © RWD
Bouncing Bett. The leaves are similar if not identical.


7th September 2005, Walsden, Rochdale Canal. Photo: © RWD
Bouncing Bett. But the flowers are doubled.


7th September 2005, Walsden, Rochdale Canal. Photo: © RWD
Bouncing Bett. With still asymmetric petals.


13th September 2005, Near Edale, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Bouncing Bett. The sepals are more bulbous to accommodate the extra petals.


13th September 2005, Near Edale, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Bouncing Bett. The sepals are more bulbous to accommodate the extra petals.


A SMUT on SOAPWORT

 Galls and Rusts Menu

2nd July 2011, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The Smut Microbotryum saponariae infects the otherwise white anthers of Soapwort flowers, completely replacing them with a mass of dark-brown sooty spores. For a long time the exact identity of this Soapwort was a puzzle until the Author bought a book on Plant Galls, and there it was!


2nd July 2011, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The sooty spores get everywhere, infecting all the Soapwort flowers in the vicinity.


Distinguishing Feature : The soapy feeling of its sap and leaves.

Not to be confused with: White Soapwort (Gypsophila radix) [non-native] or Baby's Breath (Gypsophila paniculata) [found in the UK] which have similar soapy saponins.

Soapwort was once used extensively to make soap especially for use by woollen mills, but the soap so produced is now only used for delicate cleaning operations such as those performed by museum conservationists - for instance - cleaning the Turin Shroud. Its leaves have a very soapy feel to them because of the presence of saponins. They also contain a fungicide, which helps preservation. Because of its industrial past, it is now found growing wild quite extensively in grassy places, the banks of streams, near canals, on on hedge banks. Despite its poisonous nature it has in the past been used to make a head on beer.

The stems are thick, hollow and rather brittle. The five petals, although symmetrically arranged around a circle at 72 degree intervals, are usually asymmetric. Sometimes with slight negative curvature at the tips (slightly nicked at the tip). Soapwort spreads rapidly by means of underground rhizomes.

There are about 20 species of Soapworts, only three of which occur in the UK, one of which is Rock Soapwort. The genus Saponaria is closely related to the genera Lychnis and Silene, but Soapworts have only two styles in the flower rather than the three or five respectively of the others.

Because of the presence of triterpenoid saponins, such as saponarioside A, B (major) and C, it is, like solanine and digitoxin which are also saponins which are poisonous, destroying red blood cells. Saponins generally are usually highly polar molecules. Soapwort contains triterpenoid saponins called saponariosides (sometimes called Gypsogenin Saponins presumably from their first identification in Gypsophila species?), specifically eleven of them labelled as saponariosides C to M inclusive. All act to lower surface tension and will haemolyse blood cells. Unfortunately the author cannot find a single structural formulae for any of these thirteen Saponariosides!

It has been determined that the maximum safe intake of the plant Soapwort is 100mg/day. Saponins are toxic.

The seeds of Soapwort contain Saporin which is a protein called a ribosome inactivating protein (appropriately acronymed to 'RIP'). It inhibits protein synthesis within cells. RIPs are some of the most toxic molecules known - amongst their clan are such notorious molecules as Ricin and Abrin, but those do not occur in Soapwort). However, saporin itself exhibits high toxicity, amongst the highest of all RIPs, but thankfully is not able to freely enter cells on its own. Saporin should not to be confused with saponins. Saporin has remarkable stability and is able to resist denaturation and proteolysis. It may well have pharmaceutical applications.

Bouncing Bett is a double-flowered version of Soapwort, and is more likely to be found in a garden setting than is Soapwort.

Soapwort usually has its blooms closed in the daytime, opening up only in the evening. Vespertine is the name given to this behaviour.

SAPONOSIDES


Comparing the steroidal component (ignoring the four sugar units) with that from Tomatine, there there is an oxygen atom in Saponoside A which substitutes the nitrogen atom in Tomatine (in the six-membered spiro ring [top right]). This makes Saponoside A non-alkaloidal, unlike Tomatine.

Compare Quillaic Acid with Oleanolic Acid, another acidic steroidal molecule. Quillaic Acid is named after a South American tree called Soap Tree (Quillaja saponaria) in which it was first found. The majority of saponins in Soapwort have Quillaic Acid as the aglycone (steroidal base). Quillaic Acid saponins are generally utilised by the plant as defense cheicals against herbivores, but they are ineffective against those that have developed resistance to them, as some herbivores do.


  Saponaria officinalis  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Caryophyllaceae  

Distribution
family8Carnation family8Campion  family8Caryophyllaceae
BSBI maps
genus8saponaria
Saponaria

SOAPWORT

& BOUNCING BETT [double flowered form]

Saponaria officinalis

Carnation & Campion (Pink) Family [Caryophyllaceae]  

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