Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii


Western soapberry, Soapberry


Sapindaceae (Soapberry Family)



Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii (Western soapberry)
Flaigg, Norman G.
Soapberry is a single-stemmed, low-branched, round-crowned tree, growing 10-50 ft. tall, depending on habitat. Gray, sculpted bark is distinctive in the dormant season. Leaves up to 18 inches long with a central axis and as many as 24 paired leaflets, usually fewer, and often no terminal leaflet. Leaflets unsymmetric with the broader part of the blade toward the leaf tip and the base rounded on the broader side and tapering on the narrower side. Leaflet tip elongate. Flowers in large, cream colored clusters up to 10 inches long and 6 inches wide, appearing in May and early June. Fruit fleshy, globose, about 1/2 inch wide, flesh translucent, yellow turning darker with age, sometimes persistent on the tree until the next flowering season.

The poisonous fruit, containing the alkaloid saponin, has been used as a soap substitute for washing clothes. Necklaces and buttons are made from the round dark brown seeds, and baskets are made from the wood, which splits easily.

The variety name of this plant is named for Thomas Drummond, (ca. 1790-1835), naturalist, born in Scotland, around 1790. In 1830 he made a trip to America to collect specimens from the western and southern United States. In March, 1833, he arrived at Velasco, Texas to begin his collecting work in that area. He spent twenty-one months working the area between Galveston Island and the Edwards Plateau, especially along the Brazos, Colorado, and Guadalupe rivers. His collections were the first made in Texas that were extensively distributed among the museums and scientific institutions of the world. He collected 750 species of plants and 150 specimens of birds. Drummond had hoped to make a complete botanical survey of Texas, but he died in Havana, Cuba, in 1835, while making a collecting tour of that island.

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41 photo(s) available

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Pinnate
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Dioecious
Inflorescence: Panicle
Size Notes: 10-50
Leaf: Green
Flower:
Fruit: Usually yellow, can be white to yellow to blackish.
Size Class: 36-72 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: May , Jun

Distribution

USA: AZ , AR , CO , KS , LA , MO , NM , OK , TX
Native Distribution: LA, Mex. & NM, n. to KS & s.w. MO
Native Habitat: Stream banks; wood margins; rocky hillsides

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Dry
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. Soapberry often suckers and form groves. Tolerant of drought, wind, heat, poor soil, air pollution and other city conditions. Not affected by disease or insects. Currently difficult to find in the nursery trade.

Benefit

Use Wildlife: Birds eat fruit.
Use Other: The poisonous fruit, containing the alkaloid saponin, has been used as a soap substitute for washing clothes. Necklaces and buttons are made from the round dark brown seeds, and baskets are made from the wood, which splits easily.
Warning: The root and leaves are sometimes used in herbal remedies but can be toxic and sometimes fatal in high quantities or if misused. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Deer Resistant: High

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
Soapberry Hairstreak
(Phaeostrymon alcestis)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Last Update: 2010-02-09