Saponaria - How to care for and cultivate your Saponaria plant

Saponaria - How to care for and cultivate your Saponaria plant



Saponaria ocymoides

It is a very rustic plant that is found almost everywhere in Italy and Europe, producing splendid pink flowers.






: Angiosperms


: Eudicotyledons











: see the paragraph on "Main species"


The genre Saponaria of the Caryophyllaceae family, includes hardy or semi hardy plants, native to the meadows and rocky places of Europe and south-western Asia. In Italy it is found almost everywhere, up to 1600 m above sea level.

They are annual, biennial or perennial plants, provided with a rhizome creeping, branched, red on the outside and white on the inside. The stem it is erect and cylindrical. The leaves they are opposite, whole and close. THE flowers they have 5 petals, mostly pink in various shades, pedunculated, often gathered in panicle or flower heads and emanate a very delicate perfume.

Scheme Saponaria officinalis

Root system

They are plants suitable for adorning rock gardens, for embellishing flower beds or as a border.


There are about 20 species in the genus Saponaria among which we remember:


There Saponaria ocymoides it is a perennial, vigorous, rustic and creeping plant that develops from the center of the plant in a circular manner. The leaves are hairy, ovate-lanceolate of a beautiful bright green color reaching up to 1 cm in length. The flowers are of a beautiful bright pink color that appear in summer producing abundant flowers gathered in inflorescences similar to panicles.

The plant forms creeping cushions, which spread quickly. so much so that it can become invasive by suffocating the smaller plants it encounters along its way.

It is also known under the name of red soapstone or rock soapstone.

There are several varieties among which we remember the Saponaria ocymoides 'Alba' less vigorous than the others and with white flowers and the Saponaria ocymoides 'Rubra compacta' with dark red flowers and very compact.


There Saponaria officinalis it is a perennial, rustic plant with very large pink flowers that even reach 4 cm in diameter, gathered in compact buds and bloom from June to September.

Note 1

Varieties are widely cultivated S. Officinalis 'Alba-plena' (photo below) with three double white flowers; the variety S. officinalis 'Roseo-plena' with double pink flowers similar to carnation (photo below).

Saponaria officinalis 'Alba plena'

Saponaria officinalis 'Rosy-plena'

In Italy it is a very widespread species that is found quite frequently in the meadows.

It is a medicinal plant of which both the rhizomes and the leaves are used for their different properties. In this regard, see the paragraph "Medicinal uses".


There Saponaria lutea (photo below) is a perennial, bushy species that we find in stony areas, at high altitudes where it forms beautiful flowering cushions. It has woody stems at the base no more than 10-15 cm high wrapped in sessile leaves. The yellowish-white flowers gathered in inflorescence on the top of the stems.


The Saponaria they are easy to grow plants, quite rustic and do not require special care

They are plants that must be grown in full sun and withstand the summer temperatures of our climates well.


There Saponaria it should be watered only when the soil dries up. In general, rainwater is sufficient and only in periods of drought it is advisable to intervene.

If you are dealing with newly planted plants, you need to water them regularly, in order to allow the root system to develop.

Beware of water stagnations that are not tolerated and could lead to the death of the plant.


It is a plant that adapts quite well to any type of soil even if it prefers well-drained, loose, neutral to slightly alkaline soils.

Some species, such as the Saponaria caespitosa they prefer gravel soils but always well draining as they do not tolerate water stagnation.


From the vegetative restart, fertilize regularly every two weeks using a complete fertilizer that is to say that in addition to having nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) they also have microelements such as magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), molybdenum (Mo), zinc (Zn), boron (B), all essential for plant growth.


There Saponaria it blooms between June and September. To prolong flowering, it is advisable to remove the flowers as they wither.


After flowering, in autumn, they should be pruned vigorously to keep the habit compact.

The cuts should be made immediately above a knot and cutting obliquely in order to avoid the accumulation of water on the surface. It is important to use a blade that is well cleaned and disinfected, possibly with a flame, to avoid the transmission of parasitic diseases.

If you want to prevent the plant from self-disseminating, it would be preferable to eliminate all the aerial part in mid-autumn to make room for new shoots when spring arrives.


Saponaria propagates by seed, by division of the plant or by cutting.

When choosing the technique to adopt, keep in mind that multiplication by seed has the disadvantage that, almost certainly, you will not get seedlings equal to the mother plant as genetic variability takes over. Therefore, if you want to obtain a precise specimen or you are not sure of the quality of the seed, it is good to do the multiplication by cuttings.

As for the MULTIPLICATION FOR SEEDS it is carried out at the beginning of spring (March) by distributing the seeds evenly directly in the home as it is a plant that does not like repotting. When the plants start to grow it is advisable to thin them at a distance of 15-20 cm from each other. Sowing can also be done in autumn to subsequently have an earlier flowering.

If you intend to plant the Saponaria in a rock garden and then sow in the small broken rocks, it would be preferable to sow in small pots placing a few seeds per pot. Once the seedlings are born, it will be left the most vigorous and very gently, as soon as it has developed enough, it will be planted in the slot you intend to use.


Plants of Saponaria they can also multiply by dividing the plant, dividing them in October or March and replanting them immediately.


Branch parts about 10 cm long are taken in spring. The lower leaves are eliminated and they are put to root in a compote formed by peat and sand in equal parts. The pots are placed in the shade, in a warm area and must be kept constantly humid. When the first sprouts begin to appear, it means that the cutting has taken root.At that point, the plant is expected to become stronger and they are planted, usually before autumn.


They are plants particularly resistant to diseases and parasites. If you take care to have well-drained soil so that the water can drain smoothly, the plant will have no problem.


The name Saponaria comes from the Latin I know which means "soap" for the juice contained in the plant, including the rhizome. In contact with water, it forms a foam thanks to the presence of saponins (glycosides). In fact, when soap was still unknown, the rhizomes of these plants were used as soap, to degrease and do laundry. Says Francesco Maria Coli in his Elementary information on pharmacy, chemistry, natural history and botany for the use of young students, For the prints of Ulisse Pamponi, Bologna 1804, (fifth volume): "The soap etymology was taken to saponem because the fresh plant fricated on the epidermis cleanses the stains as soap would, and in fact the saponaceous principle of this plant , which exists in the leaves, foams with the water, and removes the oily stains of the linen cloth ».

The ancient Greeks gave this root the name of struthion and in addition to using it to whiten wool, they used it following the indications given by Hippocrates, that is, as an emmenagogue (note 2), while Dioscorides attributed purgative properties to it. Pliny gives it the name of radicella or radicula and mentions the use that the Greeks made of it to whiten and soften wool.

The plant has numerous synonyms such as: common soapwort, saponella, savonella, savona grass, red soapwort and many others.


The plant was known to Hippocrates as an emmenagogue drug (note 2). Even the ancient Arabs knew its therapeutic use as they used it against leprosy, some dermatoses and ulcers.

The plant is also used in medicine. The parts used are the stem and leaves (before flowering) and the rhizome. All these parts are used dried.

Its main constituents are: saponins, resin, and vitamin C.

Its properties are: purifying, tonic, liver stimulant, sudorific, choleretic (increase bile secretion).

Be careful not to ingest any part of the plant as it is as it is toxic and should only be used under strict medical supervision.

A water obtained by boiling the whole plant is used to wash particularly fragile hair.

1. Image licensed under the Creative Commons, Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

2. Emmenagoga: able to stimulate the blood supply in the pelvic area and uterus and in some cases promote menstruation.

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