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Soapberry
Sapindus saponaria var. saponaria
Sapindaceae


General Landscape Uses:

Primarily recommended for natural landscapes and habitat restorations.
Availability:
Grown by one or two native plant nurseries in South Florida.
Available at All Native Garden Center and Plant Nursery in Fort Myers. 239-939-9663.
Description:
Medium tree with a broadly rounded crown. Trunks to 10 inches in diameter, but usually much less. Bark light gray, breaking into large flakes. Leaves semi-deciduous, compound, yellowish-green about 6-7 inches long.
Dimensions:
Typically 15-30 feet in height; to 33 feet in South Florida. Taller than broad.
Growth Rate:
Moderate.
Range:
Scattered and rare in the southeastern United States (Florida, eastern Georgia) south to the Monroe County Keys; West Indies, Mexico, Central America and South America; also collected in eastern Africa. Very rare in the Monroe County Keys south of Indian Key and Lignumvitae Key. For a digitized image of Elbert Little's Florida range map, visit the Exploring Florida website.
Habitats:
Hammocks, espcially along the coast.
Soils:
Moist, well-drained sandy or limestone soils, with humusy top layer.
Nutritional Requirements:
Moderate; can grow in nutrient poor soils, but needs some organic content to thrive.
Salt Water Tolerance:
Low; does not tolerate long-term flooding by salt or brackish water.
Salt Wind Tolerance:
Moderate; grows near salt water, but is protected from direct salt spray by other vegetation.
Drought Tolerance:
High; does not require any supplemental water once established.
Light Requirements:
Full sun to light shade.
Flower Color:
White.
Flower Characteristics:
Inconspicuous.
Flowering Season:
All year; peak winter-spring.
Fruit:
Rounded, brownish to yellow, drupelike berry.
Wildlife and Ecology:
Provides significant food and moderate amounts of cover for wildlife.
Horticultural Notes:
Can be grown from seed.
Comments:
The fruit contain soap-like materials. Plants from extreme southern peninsular Florida (Miami-Dade, Monroe, Collier, Lee) have a noticeable winged margin on the leaf rachis, but from Lee and Broward counties northward plants have a wingless or nearly wingless rachis; the latter form has previously been described as S. marginatus. The wingless form can be confused with S. saponaria var. drummondii, from eastern Louisiana and westward, which has deciduous leaves and fruit turning black in drying. To confound things, the University of Florida IFAS has produced two publications on Sapindus, including one on S. drummondii showing its potential range for cultivation overlapping in Florida almost exactly with what would be the range of the wingless form of S. saponaria var. saponaria, and one on S. saponaria showing a range equivalent to that of the winged form of S. saponaria var. saponaria.


 


Shirley Denton
Susan Matthewes, 2016
Leaf from the Florida Keys with a typical winged rachis
Keith A. Bradley
Keith A. Bradley
Shirley Denton
Rosimar Rivera