Sapindus drummondii

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: western soapberry 
Type: Tree
Family: Sapindaceae
Native Range: Southern United States, northern Mexico
Zone: 6 to 9
Height: 20.00 to 50.00 feet
Spread: 20.00 to 50.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: Yellowish-white
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Shade Tree
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Good Fall
Fruit: Showy
Tolerate: Drought

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 6-9. Easily grown in dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Tolerates high pH soils. Also tolerates sandy or rocky soils. Self seeds in optimum growing conditions. May sucker to form groves in optimum growing conditions. Established trees have good drought tolerance.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Sapindus drummondii, commonly called western soapberry, is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree with an open-rounded crown. It grows to 20-50' tall and features glossy compound medium green leaves, grape like yellow-orange fruits (ornamentally attractive but toxic if ingested), deep yellow fall foliage color, and gray bark divided into scaly plates. It is native to the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico (Missouri to Kansas and Oklahoma south to Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico). In Missouri, it is found on limestone and dolomite glades, bluff bases and along streams in several counties in the far southwestern corner of the State (Steyermark). Yellowish-white flowers bloom in late spring (May-June) in large open panicles to 10" long. Flowers are followed by yellow-orange grape like fruits (usually one-seeded) that mature in September-October. Fruits eventually turn black with persistence on the tree well into winter. Although toxic and inedible, the fruits (contain saponin) produce a soapy lather when mashed. Native Americans made soap from the fruit. Pinnate compound leaves (each to 15" long) with 8-18 untoothed, lanceolate, medium green leaflets (each to 2-3" long) turn excellent yellow-gold in autumn. Scaly trunk and often persistent fruit provide winter interest.

Synonymous with and sometimes designated as Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii.

Genus name comes from the Latin words sapo meaning soap and indus meaning Indian in reference to the use of these sapoinin-rich fruits in the West Indies to produce a soapy lather used as a soap.

Specific epithet honors Scottish botanist and naturalist Thomas Drummond (1790-1835) who collected this plant in the 1830s.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Powdery mildew, leaf blight and leaf spot may appear in some areas.

Garden Uses

Lawn specimen, small shade tree, patio tree or screen where winter hardy.