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Flaigg, Norman G.
Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii
Sapindus saponaria L. var. drummondii (Hook. & Arn.) L.D. Benson
Western soapberry, Soapberry
Synonym(s): Sapindus drummondii
USDA Symbol: SASAD
USDA Native Status: L48 (N)
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.
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial Habit: Tree Leaf Retention: Deciduous Leaf Arrangement: Alternate Leaf Complexity: Pinnate Breeding System:
, Dioecious Inflorescence: Panicle Size Notes:
Usually yellow, can be white to yellow to blackish. Size Class:
Bloom InformationBloom Color: White
Bloom Time: May , Jun
, TX Native Distribution: LA,
Mex. & NM,
n. to KS
& s.w. MO Native Habitat:
Stream banks; wood margins; rocky hillsides
Growing ConditionsWater Use:
Low Light Requirement:
Sun , Part Shade Soil Moisture:
Dry , Moist CaCO3 Tolerance:
High Drought Tolerance:
High Cold Tolerant:
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.
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:
PropagationDescription: Scarified and stratified seed sown after all danger of frost. Cuttings collected in May or June and treated with hormone root in 5-6 weeks.
Seed Collection: Collect seeds in late fall or early winter. Seeds may be cleaned or dried with the pulp on. Store in sealed, refrigerated containers.
Seed Treatment: Scarify seeds in sulfuric acid for one to three hours and then stratify at 35-45 degrees for 40-60 days.
Commercially Avail: yes
Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)
Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii
is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
From the National Suppliers Directory
According to the inventory provided by Associate Suppliers, this plant is available at the following locations:
Hill Country Natives
- Leander, TX
Herbarium Specimen(s)NPSOT 0416
Collected May 28, 1987 in Bexar County by Harry Cliffe
Record Last Modified: 2010-02-09
Research By: NPC