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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - June 03, 2013

From: San Antonio, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Pests, Trees
Title: Western soapberry dropping leaves in San Antonio
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My Western Soapberry tree (China berry?) Suddenly started dropping full, perfectly healthy green, leaf units. Now half the tree is turning yellow. There is a second tree in the yard not far from this tree and it is not affected. Same kind of tree.

ANSWER:

We hope that what you have is Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii (Western soapberry), which is in our Native Plant Database. Melia Azerdrach (chinaberry) is native to Pakistan, India and other Middle East locations. Not only that, but according to this Plant Conservation Alliance article Least Wanted it is an undesirable invasive non-native.

Therefore, we will talk about Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii (Western soapberry)  which, according to this USDA Plant Profile Map grows naturally in Comal County right next to Bexar County, so we can safely assume that you have the appropriate soils and climate for the plant.

From SF Gate, we found this article on Diseases of the Western Soapberry. Please note this paragraph:

"Though generally disease-free and not susceptible to root rot, soapberry can occasionally suffer from fungal diseases, including powdery mildew, leaf spot and leaf blight. Though these ailments can affect appearance and cause leaves to drop, they are not fatal to healthy trees. All can be prevented or controlled with good pruning to encourage air circulation. When you remove affected branches or leaves, destroy them rather than adding them to compost piles or using them elsewhere in the garden."

From the Texas Chapter of the International Society of Arborculture Soapberry Borers.

From our webpage on this plant:

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Drought Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Rich, limestone soils.
Conditions Comments: An attractive and hardy tree, useful as a specimen or in groves. Can become a large tree in deep soil. In shallow soil it often remains a small tree. The fruits are considered to be poisonous to humans although they produce a good lather in water and are used in Mexico as a laundry soap. Both females and males have fruits; males are showier"

We suggest you compare these Growing Conditions with those of your "sick" plant and the healthy plant, considering amount of sunlight, over or underwatering and presence of insects.

 

From the Image Gallery


Western soapberry
Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii

Western soapberry
Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii

Western soapberry
Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii

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