Ontario Weeds: Cow cockle

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Excerpt from Publication 505, Ontario Weeds, Order this publication

Table of Contents

  1. Name
  2. Other Names
  3. Family
  4. General Description
  5. Stems and Roots
  6. Leaves
  7. Flowers and Fruit
  8. Habitat
  9. Similar Species
  10. Caution
  11. Related links
  12. For more information...

Name: Cow cockle, Saponaria vaccaria L.

Other Names: China cockle, Cow-herb, saponaire des vaches, vaccaire, Vaccaria pyramidata Med., V. segetalis (Neck.) Garcle, V. vulgaris Host

Family: Pink Family (Caryophyllaceae)

General Description: Annual, reproducing only by seed.

Photos and Pictures:

Cow cockle illistration
Cow cockle.

Stems & Roots: Stems 10-60cm (4-24in.) high, erect, usually much-branched in the upper part, smooth with swollen nodes.

Leaves: Opposite (2 per node), 5-10cm (2-4in.) long, tapered to a pointed tip, rounded towards the stalkless base, sometimes somewhat clasping the stems, thick and a bit fleshy in texture, very smooth

Flowers & Fruit: Flower showy in a much-branched inflorescence; sepals united forming an angular calyx with 5 prominent ribs; petals 5, pink, spreading 10-20mm (2/5-4/5in.) in diameter; seedpods flask-shaped inside the sharply 5-angled calyx, opening with 4 to 6 teeth; seeds purplish-black, nearly spherical, 2-2.5mm (1/12-1/10in.) in diameter. Flowers from mid-July to September by which time the plant is mature, dull yellowish, very brittle, and it breaks and rolls with the wind, scattering its seed.

Habitat: Cow cockle occurs at scattered locations throughout Ontario, most frequently along railroads and in waste areas near feed mills, but in recent years it has appeared more frequently in grainfields.

Similar Species: It is distinguished from other members of the Pink Family by its annual habit, the bases of the leaves rounded or partly clasping the stem, the bright pink petals and the strongly 5-angled calyx.

Caution: Like Bouncingbet, Cow cockle seeds and foliage also contain saponins (soap-like chemicals) and are considered potentially poisonous to livestock.

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