Plant of the day: soaproot

For most of the year, soaproot is an innocuous plant. A tuft of narrow leaves grows straight from the ground like a bouquet of wavy, pale green ribbons. But in bloom they’re a spectacular sight! A long, branched stalk shoots up from the center of the leaves, with white flowers scattered along it like stars. Six long but very narrow petals bend backwards, with six long sepals rising surrounding a long slender pistil. The flowers are delicate but large, and striking enough that I saw them while driving and pulled over for a closer look.

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One reason that I haven’t seen this little agave-family lily in bloom more often is that it only opens in the early evening, and closes again in the morning. The flower stalk can grow up to seven feet long, but is delicate enough that it’s easy to miss when the flashy flowers are closed.

Chlorogalum pomeridianum, also known as amole, star lily, soap lily, or soap plant contains saponins and was traditionally used as its name suggests. The crushed bulb foams up nicely and was used to wash hair, bodies and anything else. The plant was also used in fishing, since saponins are toxic to ichtyoids. The crushed bulb would be tossed into a stream, and soon the hapless fish could be scooped out.

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