Weed Seed: Vaccaria hispanica (Cow cockle)




Saponaria vaccaria

Common Name

Cow cockle


Secondary Noxious, Class 3 in the Canadian Weed Seeds Order, 2016 under the Seeds Act.


Canadian: Occurs in AB, BC, MB, NB, NS, ON, QC, SK, YT (Brouillet et al. 2016Footnote 1).

Worldwide: Native to northern Africa, Europe and temperate Asia and introduced in North America, Argentina, Uruguay, northeast Africa, South Africa, Australia, and beyond its native range in Asia (Arabian Peninsula, Japan, Thailand) (USDA-ARS 2016Footnote 2). Widespread in the United States (USDA-NRCS 2016Footnote 3).

Duration of Life Cycle


Seed or Fruit Type


Identification Features


  • Seed diameter: 1.5 - 2.4 mm


  • Globose-shaped seed

Surface Texture

  • Small tubercles in rows over seed surface


  • Mature seeds black; immature seeds reddish-brown

Other Features

  • Slightly flattened around outside of seed
  • Hilum a small opening on flattened edge

Habitat and Crop Association

Cultivated fields, old fields, roadsides, railway lines and disturbed areas (Darbyshire 2003Footnote 4).

General Information

Cow cockle prefers fine-textured soils (Frankton and Mulligan 1993Footnote 5). It was a common weed of grain crops in the past, but its numbers and distribution have been declining over the last few decades (FNA 1993+Footnote 6). The saponins contained in the plants and seeds are potentially toxic to livestock if ingested (Frankton and Mulligan 1993Footnote 5).

Similar Species

Bouncingbet (Saponaria officinalis)

  • Bouncingbet seeds are a similar size, black colour, round outline and rough surface as cow cockle seeds.
  • Bouncingbet seeds are compressed, the hilum is in a notch, and the surface pattern is made of raised cells rather than tuberculate as cow cockle seeds.


Cow cockle (Vaccaria hispanica) seeds
Cow cockle (Vaccaria hispanica) seed, hilum view
Cow cockle (Vaccaria hispanica) seed, hilum view
Cow cockle (Vaccaria hispanica) seed
Cow cockle (Vaccaria hispanica) seed, cross-section

Similar species

Similar species: Bouncingbet (Saponaria officinalis) seeds
Similar species: Bouncingbet (Saponaria officinalis) seed, hilum view
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