When Life Gives you Lemons

Soapwort, roadside plant from Montgomery County Virginia

My paying job is in a slump again. I drove to the clinic yesterday  (18 miles from home) for three patients, ended up seeing two when the third, a home patient, cancelled. So my day ended at 11:30, and in that was a certain freedom–especially as I had brought along the camera.

The roadsides are thick with wildflowers just now, but finding a place to pull over is next to impossible. So I simply walked across the road from the clinic (near the Radford Hospital) and explored what was blooming around the 50 foot cat tail marsh they incorporated thoughtfully into the landscaping.

And from that short walk and one more stop along the way, came back with a few keeper shots for botanical and entomological purposes if not for photo-enlargment ends. (Lighting is contrasty and directly overhead at mid day and NOT the time you should chose for a photoshoot if you have a choice.)

First time I saw this plant was at Ducktown, Tennessee–at the time (in the early 70s) still suffering from decades of copper smelting and the sulfuric fumes and precipitation that denuded tens of square miles of all plant life. This lovely flower didn’t seem to mind, and was growing where little else would. Take a look at the image here.

It goes by the following common names: Bouncing Bet, Fuller’s-herb, Lady’s-washbowl, Latherwort, Old-maid’s-pink and the one I use: Soapwort. A member of the carnation family, it has been used since the early Greeks for its saponins (lathering compounds) as well as to treat various ailments of skin and organs. It’s listed among the poisonous plants of North Carolina, so look but don’t munch.

Soapwort’s white to pink petals cover the roadsides in many places, mixed among the deep pink sweetpea, yellow sweet clover, sky-blue chickory, white Queen Anne’s Lace and some of the others I’ll hope to show you in the coming weeks–if I can find a place to pull over!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. My 8th grade Tennesse history teacher took a busload of students around the state for a four day field trip in 1956. We saw the Ducktown Basin. It made a big impression on me. Maybe that is one of the reasons I am an environmentalist today.

  2. In the 1980s I drove through Ducktown often on the way to kayak the Ocoee River. The denuded hills were slowly recovering at that time, with some vegetation getting a foothold. There were no fish in the Ocoee, due to the acidity of the water.