(Saponaria officinalis) Pink family
Flowers - Pink or whitish, fragrant, about 1 inch broad, loosely
clustered at end of stem, also sparingly from axils of upper
leaves. Calyx tubular, 5-toothed, about 3/4 in. long; 5 petals,
the claws inserted in deep tube. Stamens
10, in 2 sets; 1 pistil
with 2 styles. Flowers frequently double. Stem: to 2 ft. high,
erect, stout, sparingly branched, leafy. Leaves: Opposite,
acutely oval, 2 to 3 in. long, about 1 in. wide, 3 to 5 ribbed.
Fruit: An oblong capsule, shorter than calyx, opening at top by 4
short teeth or valves.
Preferred Habitat - Roadsides, banks, and waste places.
Flowering Season - June-September.
Distribution - Generally common. Naturalized from Europe.
A stout, buxom, exuberantly healthy lassie among flowers is
bouncing Bet, who long ago escaped from gardens whither she was
brought from Europe, and ran wild beyond colonial farms to
roadsides, along which she has traveled over nearly our entire
area. Underground runners and abundant seed soon form thrifty
colonies. This plant, to which our grandmothers ascribed healing
virtues, makes a cleansing, soap-like lather when its bruised
leaves are agitated in water.
Butterflies, which delight in bright colors and distinct
markings, find little to charm them here; but the pale shade of
pink or white, easily distinguished in the dark, and the
fragrance, strongest after sunset, effectively advertise the
flower at dusk when its benefactors begin to fly. The sphinx
moth, a frequent visitor, works as rapidly in extracting nectar
from the deep tube as any hawk moth, so frequently mistaken for a
hummingbird. The little cliff-dwelling bees (Halictus), among
others, visit the flowers by day for pollen only. At first five
outer stamens protrude slightly from the flower and shed their
pollen on the visitor, immediately over the entrance. Afterward,
having spread apart to leave the entrance free, the path is clear
for the five inner stamens to follow the same course. Now the
styles are still enclosed in the tube but when there is no longer
fear of self-fertilization - that is to say, when the pollen has
all been carried off, and the stamens have withered - up they
come and spread apart to expose their rough upper surfaces to
pollen brought from younger flowers by the moths.
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