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Sapindus saponaria var. saponaria

Copyright by: Shirley Denton

General Landscape Uses: Primarily recommended for natural landscapes and habitat restorations.

Availability: Grown by one or two native plant nurseries in South Florida.

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.

Plant Map Map of select IRC data from peninsular Florida.

 Map of suggested ZIP codes from South Florida north to southern Brevard, Osceola, Polk, and Pasco counties.

 Map of ZIP codes with habitat recommendations from the Monroe County Keys north to Martin and Charlotte counties.

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. Attracts bee pollinators.

Horticultural Notes: Can be grown from seed.

References: Schaefer & Tanner 1997

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.

Copyright by: Shirley Denton

Copyright by: Susan Matthewes, 2016
Leaf from the Florida Keys with a typical winged rachis

Copyright by: Keith A. Bradley

Copyright by: Keith A. Bradley

Copyright by: Shirley Denton

Copyright by: Rosimar Rivera

Other data on Sapindus saponaria var. saponaria available from:

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