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Cowcockle, Cow Soapwort, Cowherb - Vaccaria hispanica


Family: Caryophyllaceae - Pink family Genus Common Name: Soapwort Native Status: IntroducedDicot Annual Herb
Vaccaria hispanica - Cowcockle, Cow Soapwort, Cowherb. Vaccaria hispanica is either the only species in the genus, and has four subspecies, or, as some authorities say, is one of four species in the Vaccaria genus. In either case, it is a European import, and has been historically found in all but two states - Georgia and North Carolina. However, it is apparently in decline and may now be extirpated in several states. It has an affinity to open fields and waste areas. It grows in pastures, and reportedly was used as fodder, giving the cow reference both in the common name, and in the genus name - vacca being Latin for cow. My further speculation - the Chinese have used its seeds medicinally to promote lactation; that could be a boon to those with a dairy cow; it may have been used in their fodder.

Vaccaria has been included in the genus Saponaria by some authorities.

Found in:
AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
Vaccaria hispanica

Distribution of Vaccaria hispanica in the United States and Canada:
USDA Plants Distribution Map temporarily unavailable.
Blue=Native; Grey=Introduced

Map from USDA Plants Database:
USDA, NRCS. 2017. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 13 Dec 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

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Site: Kleinschmidt Grade, Adams County, ID Date: 2011-June-19Photographer: Gerald C. Williamson
Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 90MM f/2.8 AF Macro
The swollen calyx is another feature that pointed in the direction of the Caryophyllaceae family. It features 5 distinct ridges. A superficially similar member of the Pink family is Sleepy Sirene, Silene antirrhina. It can easily be differentiated in that it has a 10-ridged calyx. A photo of Sleepy Sirene can be seen at Southeastern Arizona Wildflowers.
Vaccaria hispanica

Site: Kleinschmidt Grade, Adams County, ID Date: 2011-June-19Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 90MM f/2.8 AF Macro
The flower of Cowcockle has 5 pink to reddish-purple petals which are notched, fairly typical of many members of the Pink family. There are usually 10 stamens which are attached to the petals.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Vaccaria hispanica

Site: Kleinschmidt Grade, Adams County, ID Date: 2011-June-19Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 90MM f/2.8 AF Macro
Vaccaria has usually a single stem at the base, but it branches perhaps several times near the top. Since it is an annual, there may be several plants in close proximity providing a relatively high number of flowers in a small area. The inflorescence is terminal. The plants can grow up to over 3 feet high, although would typically be somewhat shorter.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Vaccaria hispanica

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All content except USDA Plants Database map Copyright Gerald C. Williamson 2017
Photographs Copyright owned by the named photographer