The soapwort or bouncing bet is a coarse, rather showy perennial plant, with large clusters of pale rose-coloured flowers, sometimes double, which is common along roadsides, in old gardens and neglected places, having been introduced from Europe in garden seeds. It is in bloom from July to September or later. The juice of the plant, when stirred in water - forms a froth like soapsuds, and has been used for sponging cloth. The whole plant, especially the root, contains the poisonous glucosidal substance saponin. No cases of poisoning have been recorded, probably due to the fact that animals avoid the plant and other nourishing food is abundant at the time. The saponin substances dissolve the blood corpuscles of all animals, causing stupefaction and paralysis, with vomiting and purging.
The annual cow-cockle is closely related to the soapwort and the purple cockle. Like the soapwort it has smooth leaves and pink flowers, but the flowers are a brighter pink, smaller and on longer stalks. The plant contains saponin. It has been introduced from Europe, and is common in wheat fields in the West. The seeds, which are regarded as poisonous are common in wheat screenings. They are slightly smaller than those of purple cockle, reddish brown, round, with a flat band around the middle.
Photo - P. Fyles.