Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Western Soapberry
Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii

Family: Sapindaceae (sap-in-DAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Sapindus (sap-IN-dus) (Info)
Species: saponaria var. drummondii

Synonym:Sapindus drummondii

23 members have or want this plant for trade.


20-30 ft. (6-9 m)
30-40 ft. (9-12 m)

15-20 ft. (4.7-6 m)
20-30 ft. (6-9 m)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun

Seed is poisonous if ingested

Bloom Color:
White/Near White

Bloom Time:
Mid Spring
Late Spring/Early Summer

Good Fall Color

Other details:
Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From seed; direct sow after last frost
From seed; germinate in a damp paper towel
Scarify seed before sowing

Seed Collecting:
Remove fleshy coating on seeds before storing
Unblemished fruit must be significantly overripe before harvesting seed; clean and dry seeds
Wear gloves to protect hands when handling seeds
Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored

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By Jeff_Beck
Thumbnail #1 of Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii by Jeff_Beck

By Jeff_Beck
Thumbnail #2 of Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii by Jeff_Beck

By Jeff_Beck
Thumbnail #3 of Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii by Jeff_Beck

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Thumbnail #4 of Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii by Jeff_Beck

By Jeff_Beck
Thumbnail #5 of Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii by Jeff_Beck

By htop
Thumbnail #6 of Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii by htop

By htop
Thumbnail #7 of Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii by htop

There are a total of 21 photos.
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4 positives
2 neutrals
1 negative

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive OfficeCopy On Oct 3, 2012, OfficeCopy from Columbia, SC wrote:

A soapberry tree came with the house (a little too close to the house if truth be told). It took sending a sample to the Univ. SC Herbarium for me to figure out what it is, it being quite unusual here. I love it. Great form (like a smaller version of Chinese pistache). Nice, but not outstanding fall color (yellow). Little mess. Attractive and unusual fruit. The only negative is that it sends up water sprouts from the horizontal limbs.

Negative bcturner On May 21, 2011, bcturner from Colorado City, TX wrote:

This plant is taking over my goat pasture and since it can be toxic, I'm trying to get rid of it, without much luck. Help!! To those of you who want some-ya'll come and get it.

Positive peachespickett On Mar 28, 2008, peachespickett from Huntington, AR wrote:

I am growing several of these from seed. I soaked them in warm water for a day, rubbed off the outer, wrinkly membrane, scratched them on the concrete, just enough so I could see a tiny dot of white from the embryo, then soaked them in water for another 2 days....half I put in a wet paper towel in a baggie on top of the fridge, the other half I put into 4-inch pots in the sun, mostly covered with dirt. About 50% are coming up within days of scarification, both in the pots and in the baggie.

Neutral syswriter On Jun 20, 2007, syswriter from Oracle, AZ wrote:

This plant is a tree that spreads by rhizomes and will form a thicket. Very drought resistant, but invasive in moist areas.

Positive valf On Feb 13, 2006, valf from Joplin, MO (Zone 6b) wrote:

Very drought resistant. Needs sun. Graceful. Attractive in all seasons and great for wildlife. Attracts butterflies.

Positive ineedacupoftea On Nov 1, 2005, ineedacupoftea from Denver, CO wrote:

This tree was one of the stepping stones to my botanical passion. There is one growing on a road that used to be a good bike shortcut when I was a kid. I saw this tree and noted it's hard-to-define texture. It has more leaflets (in even numbers, not ending in a single leaf.) than an ash (a Very overused tree) and does not look like a willow. I also noticed the setting sun shining through the transparent dried amber fruits, and these glowed like little lights.

The tree I know of is very spherical and 20-30 feet tall. It is on the fenceline of an antique house that has never seemed to have residents to water the yard. -Very drought tolerant in our alkaline clay soil. There may be another one half it's size nearby, but beyond that, they exist alone. They are old enough to have survived quite a few sub-zero winters for sure.

In the name of biodiversity, I have recently collected seeds and planted some in my garden. I hope that after being naturally stratified, they will grow next spring, and the originals will not be alone in my valley.

Certainly a tree that one can't help but touch!

Neutral htop On Jul 20, 2005, htop from San Antonio, TX (Zone 8b) wrote:

Another common name for this plant is Jaboncillo. I have not grown this plant so I am unable to give it a rating. Some people call it a "trash tree". In its natural habitat, I find it quite attractive all year. Containing a soaplike substance called saponin, a natural detergent, the fruits have been used as a substitute for soap. The soap is obtained from the fruit by rubbing the fruit in water and is used in Mexico for washing clothes. The fruit can be dried and stored for later use. Some people sustain a skin rash from this substance so be careful if using the fruit for this purpose.. The fruits are poisonous and should not be eaten. Sapindus in Latin means "soap of the Indes" and saponaria refers to the saponin found in the fruit; drummondii honors Thomas Drummond, who collected plants in Texas for Joseph Hooker.

It usually blooms in May and June and the fruits fully ripen in November. The fruits which are about about 15mm in diameter start out a green color and gradually change to a beautiful amber. When it loses its leaves in the winter, the marble sized transculent amber fruit show the black seed inside. The fruit tend to remain on the tree all winter.

It may be found on limestone bluffs, slopes and by streams in moist clay or dry limestone. It is adaptable to many types of soil and is drought tolerant. It will not grow in the shade; but, it will thrive at the sunny edge of a woodland.

When propagating, in mid-winter pre-soak the scarified seed for 24 hours in warm water and sow in a cold frame . Move to a greenhouse or other protected area in early spring. The seed should germinate in late spring. Place the seedlings in individual pots when they are large enough to handle and transplant in early summer. It can be propagated by using cuttings of almost ripe wood with a heel may be taken in July or August.

Buttons and necklaces are made from the seeds. The wood is close-grained, strong and heavy. Because it splits easily into thin strips, it is used in basket making. The wood is also used as a fuel.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Oracle, Arizona
Clifton, Colorado
Denver, Colorado
Jacksonville, Florida (2 reports)
Olathe, Kansas
Wichita, Kansas
Joplin, Missouri
Saint Louis, Missouri
Springfield, Missouri
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Fairacres, New Mexico
New Bern, North Carolina
Hulbert, Oklahoma
Tulsa, Oklahoma
Columbia, South Carolina
Arlington, Texas
Austin, Texas
Belton, Texas
Brownsville, Texas
Bulverde, Texas
Colorado City, Texas
Crockett, Texas
Dallas, Texas
De Leon, Texas
Fort Worth, Texas
Lubbock, Texas
San Antonio, Texas (2 reports)
Southlake, Texas
Spring Branch, Texas
Temple, Texas

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