Chlorogalum pomeridianum

Thank you to maljo@UBC Botanical Garden forums for sharing today’s photograph with us (original via the Botany Photo of the Day Submissions Forum). Appreciated!

Wavy-leafed soap plant or California soaproot was well-used by First Nations of California and southwest Oregon. Daniel Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany has over a half page documenting its utility. Some examples, in the format of “First Nation | Type of Use | Summary”:

  • Cahuilla | Dermatological Aid | Saponaceous material used as a dandruff shampoo
  • Pomo | Dermatological Aid | Plant juice rubbed on area affected by poison oak
  • Wailaki | Gastrointestinal Aid | Decoction of bulbs taken for stomachaches
  • Miwok | Winter Use Food | Stored, dried bulbs used for food
  • Costanoan | Brushes & Brooms | Fibrous bulb covers tied in bundles to make brushes
  • Luisenõ | Brushes & Brooms | Bulb fiber made into small brushes used for sweeping up scattered meal after pounding acorns
  • Mewuk | Caulking Material | Made into a white mucilaginous paste and used to coat baskets
  • Cahuilla | Hunting & Fishing Item | Saponaceous material used as a stupefying ageny and placed into streams to catch fish
  • Karok | Soap | Bulbs pounded, mixed with water, and used as a detergent for washing clothes and buckskin blankets
  • Mendocino Indian | Decorations | Green leaves formerly pricked into the skin to form tattoo marks
  • Mendocino Indian | Fasteners | Bulbs roasted and the juice used as a substitute for glue in attaching feathers to arrows

Or, if you prefer a written narrative: you can either visit Wikipedia’s entry on Chlorogalum pomeridianum or visit Wayne Armstrong’s page on soap lilies in California. I recommend the latter because it contains additional photographs of the flowers and plants, as well as an image of the fibre-covered bulbs of Chlorogalum pomeridianum. Wayne also explains the physical chemistry and biochemistry of saponins, responsible for the soap-like properties associated with this species and its relatives.

Botany resource link: I updated the science weblogs listing yesterday (bottom right of the main Botany Photo of the Day page). Most were deletions, but I also added Kew Blogs, so I thought I might point out the link here as well. On that note, if you have suggestions for science weblogs I should add (particularly plant-related ones), post a comment with a link and I’ll consider adding it to the list in early August.

Chlorogalum pomeridianum

5 responses to “Chlorogalum pomeridianum”

  1. Equisetum

    I tried for years to figure out what species the mysterious wavy, gray-green inch-high remnants of leaf along trails in East (SF) Bay parks could be — finally identified it from the fibrous bulb “skins” revealed by erosion. Deer love the leaves (and flowering stems)! Yet once you know the plant, the leaves are quite definitive, there are no plants with leaves at all like them that I’ve seen.

    Eventually I saw a plant complete with leaves and flowers to confirm my guesses, someplace where there were fewer deer (possibly Tilden or UC Berkeley Botanical Garden?).

    I see that Cal Flora has no record of any species of Chlorogalum in my county, San Joaquin, though there are specimens documented for all the surrounding counties. Perhaps more a reflection on the way botany is taught in local colleges than a record of the Amole’s actual distribution.


  2. Eric in SF

    This is one of my favorite California natives and (strangely for me) it’s one of the least showy!
    This photo is a great example of what one will find pretty much in any habitat in the Bay Area from about January until May:
    The flowers come as the plant is going dormant for the summer, like so many California geophytes.
    The plant is incredibly hardy and resilient and is in no danger of being extirpated due to human activity. It’s friggin’ everywhere, and in mass quantities!

  3. elizabeth a airhart

    thank you daniel ubc comes up so often
    when searching for your science blogs
    there is bbc science and nature page
    i read a goodly amount of garden blogs
    like the plant hunter etc not sure if this is
    what you mean–one of my favorite is
    astronomy picture a day.todays is so beautiful
    the ny botanical garden has just put online
    the planthunters this grown up likes it bon bon

  4. Renae Smith

    Isn’t this a photo of the flower of a mother in law plant, a sanseveria?

  5. Equisetum


    The Amole Soap Plant — Chlorogalum– flower stalk does look kind of like the Sansevieria flower stalk, but they are only vaguely related. They have interesting similarities though. Both are drouth-tolerant (but adapted in different ways), and both have had interesting practical uses: fiber, medicine, and in the case of the Amoles, cleaning — the roots pound into a mild, free-rinsing soapy lather.

    Chlorogalums are strictly New World, in fact found only in the west. California, where I live, has 5 species plus some varieties. They are not often grown as ornamentals, though some of us native-garden nuts have tried. All the Chlorogalums have thin, rather dry leaves and a big, fiber-covered bulbous root, and are adapted to the no-rain summer months of the West. The Sansevierias are also drouth-adapted, but tend more to having thick, succulent leaves to deal with dry times, and they are more tolerant of the things gardeners do to plants — like give them water in summer. The Sansevierias come from the warm parts of the Old World.

    Small flowers on rather long stalks, always with the parts in threes or multiples of three, seem to be rather common among the wild monocots — members of the great group that includes lilies and irises as well as grasses. The Chlorogalum flower stalk reminded me, in sort of a vague way, of a Tradescentia (Wandering Jew)that survived in a corner of my vegetable garden for a while, though the stalk grew down rather than up.

    Wikipedia is a very good place for finding out about garden and wild plants — I have never found anything that contradicts my textbooks/ class notes etc., and most of the articles are kept very well up to date. Much easier than digging out a pile of books! And usually, good pictures.


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