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Soap plant, Amole
Chlorogalum pomeridianum
Wavy-leafed Soap Plant
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Asparagaceae
Subfamily: Agavoideae
Genus: Chlorogalum
(Lindl.) Kunth
  • Laothoe Raf.
  • Ornithogalum section Chlorogalum Lindl.[1]

The common names Soap Plant, Soaproot or Amole refer to the genus Chlorogalum. They are native to western North America, from Oregon to Baja California, and are mostly found in California.

Soap Plants are perennial plants, with more or less elongated bulbs, depending on the species. The bulbs can be white or brown, and in most species have a fibrous coat. The flowers are borne on a long central stem, and appear to have six separate petals (not all are petals in the technical sense). There are six stamens, which are prominent in most species.


The placement of the genus Chlorogalum has varied considerably. In the APG III system, followed here, it is placed in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Agavoideae, based on molecular systematics evidence.[4] The second edition of the Jepson Manual places the genus in Agavaceae (equivalent to the APG III subfamily Agavoideae).[5] Until the 1980s, the genus was generally treated in the Lily family, Liliaceae, in the order Liliales, e.g. the Flora of North America, published in 1993 onwards, has Chlorogalum in Liliaceae.[6] The genus has also been placed in its own family, Chorogalaceae, or in a group within the hyacinth family Hyacinthaceae (now Scilloideae), in the order Asparagales. Phylogenetic studies based on molecular evidence (e.g. Pfosser and Speta 1999), suggested that, along with Camassia, Chlorogalum seemed to be most closely related to Agave and Anthericum.


Five species are currently classified in the genus.[2] All except the Wavy-leafed Soap Plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum, have rather restricted distributions, with little overlap. The Wavy-leafed Soap Plant, however, has a range that virtually encompasses those of all other members of the genus, and is the most common of them.


Soaproot had a diverse range of uses. The tough fibers surrounding the underground bulb were used for creating the predominant brushes used by so many Native California Groups used in the processing of the important food of acorn flour. The second most important use of soaproot was the use of the raw soaproot bulb as a shampoo or soap for body cleansing. The saponins present in the raw bulbs would produce a substantial lather when agitated with water. These same saponins also worked as an effective fish stunning chemical. The Native California groups would pulverize the bulb, mix it in water to create a foam, and then add the suds to a stream. This would incapacitate the fish by blocking the oxygen absorption in the gills, which would cause the fish to be stupefied and to float to the surface for easy gathering. Among the tribes using this technique were the Lassik, the Luiseño, the Yuki, the Yokut, the Chilula, the Wailaki, the Miwok, the Kato, the Mattole, the Nomlaki and the Nishinam.[7]

Chestnut (1902)[8] describes a range of other uses of C. pomeridianum var. pomeridianum, including as an antiseptic poultice, as soap, and the extract from roasted bulbs used as a glue in attaching feathers to arrows. The leaves, on account of their flexible and semi-succulent character, were used in the process of baking acorn bread, being used to wrap the dough, which was then baked among fire heated rocks.

The abundant, tough external fibers sheathing the bulbs of C. pomeridianum var. pomeridianum were used by native peoples of California to craft brushes and combs.[9]

In literature, reference to native uses of soaproot apply principally to C. pomeridianum var. pomeridianum; the other taxa in the genus were not utilized. [10]

soaproot brush


  1. ^ Lindley, John 1841. Edwards's Botanical Register n. ser. 4: 54
  2. ^ a b Search for "Chlorogalum", World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, retrieved 2012-05-05 
  3. ^ Kunth, Karl Sigismund 1843. Enumeratio Plantarum Omnium Hucusque Cognitarum 4: 681-683 in Latin
  4. ^ Stevens, P.F., Angiosperm Phylogeny Website: Asparagales: Agavoideae 
  5. ^ Bruce G. Baldwin (Editor), Douglas H. Goldman (Editor), David J Keil (Editor), Robert Patterson (Editor), Thomas J. Rosatti (Editor), ed. (2012). The Jepson Manual Vascular Plants of California (2nd ed.). University of California Press. ISBN 9780520253124. 
  6. ^ Flora of North America. New York and Oxford: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993. 
  7. ^ Campbell, Paul (1999). Survival skills of native California. Gibbs Smith. p. 433. ISBN 978-0-87905-921-7. 
  8. ^ Chesnut, V.K. 1902. Contributions U.S. National Herbarium Vol. 7:295-409
  9. ^ Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Univ. of California, Berkeley; accessions 1-2824 (comb), L-12083 (brush), 1-11871 (fiber bundle). et. seq.
  10. ^ Hoover, R.F. 1940. Madrono 5:137-147.
  • Pfosser, M. and Speta, F. (1999) Phylogenetics of Hyacinthaceae based on plastid DNA sequences. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 86, 852-875.

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