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Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis L.)

| Description | Distribution | Conditions of poisoning | Control | Toxic principle | Clinical signs | References

Bouncing Bet


Bouncing bet is a herbaceous perennial, 1-3 feet tall, which grows from rhizomes. Its close relative, cow cockle (Saponaria vaccaria L.), is an annual. The stems are erect and jointed with opposite elliptic leaves which are 3-4 inches long and 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches wide at the middle. The leaf margins lack teeth.

The flowers come in clusters of cylindric sepals and bloom from June to September, displaying 5-6 petals notched at the apex. Petal colors range from white to pink. The fruit is a capsule about 1 inch long and 1/4 inch thick containing many somewhat round black seeds. The seeds have minute bumps on the surface.

bouncing bet bouncing bet bouncing bet
    In mid summer      In autumn    With seed pods


Originally from Europe, bouncing bet and the related species, cow cockle (Saponaria vaccaria L.), grow in open unused areas, along roadsides and railroad tracks, and waste grounds throughout the U.S. Bouncing bet is found in nearly all counties of Illinois, while cow cockle is limited only to scattered counties in northern and central Illinois. Bouncing bet and cow cockle are considered weeds, although they are attractive plants.

Conditions of poisoning

The abundance of bouncing bet along roadsides and in other wastelands makes it easily accessible to animals allowed to graze in such places. Although the entire plant is poisonous, the seeds contain the largest concentration of the toxic principle.


Screenings of grain should be checked for large quantities of Saponaria seeds. Animals tend to avoid contaminated feed because the plants apparently are distasteful. Animals should not be grazed where Saponaria species is abundant, especially when the pasture grasses are present in short supply or are exceedingly dry.

Toxic principle

Bouncing Bet contains large amounts of saponins, which froth when extracted with water. The saponins are soluble in water and alcohol. The sapotoxins of these saponins are similar or identical to those of corn cockle (Agrostemma Githago). Hydrolysis of the saponins yields sugars and sapogonins, a group of physiologically active substances.

The toxic material is contained in highest concentration in the seeds. Most animals refuse to eat the seeds and avoid grains or screenings containing them. Feeding of the plant itself to sheep in an amount of 3% of the body weight caused death within 4 hours; the plant weight being expressed on a dry-weight basis.

Clinical signs

Poisoning caused by bouncing bet is usually mild, as animals tend to avoid the feed that contains this plant. The poison irritates the digestive tract and may cause vomiting, signs suggestive of nausea, and diarrhea. Slowed or rapid breathing as well as unsteadiness, ataxia and coma also are associated with poisoning by this plant.

Other References:

Saponaria officinalis entry in Wikipedia


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