Sapindus saponaria
Common Name: soapberry 
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Sapindaceae
Native Range: Tropical Americas
Zone: 9 to 11
Height: 20.00 to 40.00 feet
Spread: 20.00 to 40.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: Creamy-white to yellow-white
Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Shade Tree, Street Tree
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Good Fall
Fruit: Showy
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Drought, Dry Soil

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 9-11 where it is easily grown in dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates sandy or rocky soils. Also tolerates hot and humid summer conditions. May self seed in the landscape. Suckers form groves in optimum growing conditions. Established trees have good drought tolerance.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Sapindus saponaria, commonly called wingleaf soapberry or winged soapberry, is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree with an open-rounded crown. It is native to Florida and Georgia plus a large number of subtropical to tropical areas including parts of the Caribbean, Central America, South America and Hawaii.

It typically grows to 20-40' (infrequently to 80’) tall. It is noted for its (a) often glossy, pinnately-compound, medium green leaves (to 8-13” long) with 7-15 untoothed, lanceolate leaflets (each to 2-4” long), (b) creamy-white to yellowish-white flowers (1/8” wide) which bloom in late spring (May-June) in large open panicles to 10-12" long, (c) panicles of usually one-seeded, grape-like fruits (ornamentally attractive but toxic if ingested) which ripen in fall (September-October) to yellow-brown to orange-brown sometimes further aging to near black, (d) yellow fall foliage color, and (e) fissured gray bark divided into scaly plates.

Although toxic and inedible, the fruits can be mashed in water to produce a saponin-rich soapy lather which can be used as a soap, as suggested by the common name of soapberry.

Leaf midribs on the within species are typically winged, as also suggested by the common name. Non-winged versions from northern Florida and Georgia are considered to be species plants, but have been named Sapindus marginatus with a common name of Florida soapberry by some experts.

Sapindus drummondii (sometimes listed by some experts as Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii) is a deciduous soapberry with much better winter hardiness than the within species. It is native from southwestern Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma to southwestern U. S. and Mexico. It is winter hardy to Zones 6-9.

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.

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, street tree or patio tree. Screen.