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Natural Perspective

The Plant Kingdom: Amole, Soap-plant

(Last modified: 4 May 2015)
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The Soap-plant or Amole (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) is an unassuming plant with a very rich history. Its elegant evening flower display is as easily overlooked as its history .

California Indians apparently used this relative of the onion for everything from cleaning up to fishing (the crushed leaves stun the fish), and even for curing rheumatism. Around the turn of the 20th century one V.K. Chestnut even claimed that the soapy juice of its onion-like bulb could cure Poison Oak.

The bulb remains in the ground for several years, producing leaves early each year -- the photo to the left was taken in February; the one at the bottom of the page in January. The Amole to the left was growing on the side of a trail which had eroded just enough to expose half of its mature bulb, thus revealing the deception of its young shoots. The exposed bulb was around 4" (10 cm) tall, with the leaves growing another 2" (5 cm) or so above that.

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Although the new foliage arrives very early in the year the Amole doesn't flower until mid-Summer. Beginning around July, the plant sends up a central stalk with many buds growing along branchlets in a panicle arrangement. Late each afternoon one row of buds opens, starting from the bottom. The delicate white flowers twist closed by evening and never open again. Each day another row, opens then wrings itself closed forever. If you look carefully at the photo at the top of this page you will see the twisted bloom of the previous day to the right, and the unopened new bud to the left of the open flower.

The thin branches supporting the flowers fade into the background making it seem as if the flowers are floating in thin air.

Below: Before producing its blooms, the Soap-plant can be recognized by its wavy leaves which are folded lengthwise. Some plants sport leaves with a red border. The photos on this page are of Chlorogalum pomeridianum var pomeridianum.

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Phylum: Angiospermophyta (flowering plants)
Class: Monotyledoneae (starting with a single seed-leaf)
Subclass: Liliidae
Order: Liliales
Family: Liliaceae (Lily family)
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This site produced and maintained by Ari Kornfeld
Copyright © 1996-2015 All rights reserved.

Collaboration and inspiration thanks to Susan Kornfeld
Early PhotoCD scans by Alpha CD Imaging, Menlo Park, CA
Special thanks to Claire Doyle Ragin for scanning some early photos
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