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Sapindus saponaria - L.

Common Name Soapberry, Wild Chinaberry, Florida Soap Berry, Soap Nut, Soap Tree
Family Sapindaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards The seeds are toxic[307 ]. They are used as a fish poison[331 ]. The fruits and the seeds contain up to 30% emulsifying saponins[307 , 348 ]. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans. They can be removed by carefully leaching in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish[K ]. (Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested)
Habitats Moist or dry thickets and open forest[200 ]. Dry, coastal, limestone thickets[307 ].
Range S. America - Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Surinam; through the Caribbean to Florida and C. America to Mexico.
Edibility Rating    (0 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Sapindus saponaria Soapberry, Wild Chinaberry, Florida Soap Berry, Soap Nut, Soap Tree

Sapindus saponaria Soapberry, Wild Chinaberry, Florida Soap Berry, Soap Nut, Soap Tree


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Sapindus saponaria or commonly known as Wingleaf Soapberry or Soapberry grows up to 16m tall and 60cm in trunk width. It is commonly found in South America, with its crown globose in shape, broad, and dense. Its leaves are alternate, pinnately compound comprising of 5-17 leaflets that are narrow and up to 18cm long. The flowers are white and fruits are one-seeded berries with yellow pulp and brown seed. The seeds yield oil that has medicinal properties. Moreover, the root and stem barks are astringent, bitter, and tonic while the fruit is diuretic and used against anemia. There is no known edible parts. The orange-brown fruit is used as a soap and hair shampoo. The seeds when crushed are used to make insecticide. Fiber obtained from the inner bark is made into ropes. The seeds are used in bead works, crafts, rosaries, and buttons. The wood is used for construction among others. The plant is highly tolerant of a wide range of soil and environmental conditions and an excellent pioneer species. Other common names include Wild Chinaberry, Florida Soap Berry, Soap Nut, and Soap Tree.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Sapindus saponaria is an evergreen Tree growing to 10 m (32ft) by 8 m (26ft) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10 and is frost tender. The flowers are pollinated by Insects.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in heavy clay and nutritionally poor soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid, very alkaline and saline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Cupania saponarioides Sw. Sapindus abruptus Lour. Sapindus divaricatus Cambess. Sapindus drummondii

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Oil
Edible Uses: Oil

None known

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

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Astringent  Bitter  Diuretic  Tonic

A medicinal oil has been obtained from the crushed seeds[307 ]. The root and stem barks are astringent, bitter and tonic[348 , 739 ]. The fruit is diuretic[348 ]. Rich in saponins, it is used for curing anaemia[739 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Beads  Buttons  Containers  Fibre  Hair  Insecticide  Oil  Pioneer  Soap  String  Wood

Shade tree. Seaside. Small street tree. Botanic collection. Xerophytic. Agroforestry Uses: A plant of moderate growth-rate that is tolerant of a wide range of soils and environmental situations; provides food for the native fauna; materials and medicines for humans; and is tolerant of sunny situations, this is an excellent pioneer species to use when restoring native woodland and also for establishing woodland gardens[419 , K ]. Other Uses When cut up and soaked in water, the fleshy fruit (which smells of strawberries) produces soapy suds[307 ]. The husks contain about 30% saponins and are used in some areas to wash wool and silk with remarkable rejuvenating results[307 ]. The fruit is used as a soap and hair shampoo[348 ]. The orange-brown fruit is about 2cm in diameter[200 ]. An insecticide has been made from the crushed seeds[307 ]. An oil is obtained from the seed[46 ]. A fibre obtained from the inner bark is used to make ropes[451 ]. The ornamental, black, shiny seeds have been used as beads and for making craftwork, rosaries and buttons[307 , 451 ]. The heartwood is yellow to light brown; the sapwood whitish. The wood is coarse-textured, compact, hard, moderately heavy, not durable when exposed[307 , 419 ]. It can be used in building construction, making toys, boxes etc[419 , 447 ].

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife  Carbon Farming  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Industrial Crop: Oil  Industrial Crop: Pesticide  Industrial Crop: Soap  Management: Standard  Minor Global Crop

Succeeds in a sunny position in any well-drained soil[200 ]. Plants are very tolerant of a wide range of soils, including those that are dry, stony or nutrient deficient[200 ]. Established plants are very drought tolerant[307 ]. Tolerant of salt-laden winds[307 ]. Plants have a moderate rate of growth, able to reach a height of around 2.5 metres within 2 years from seed[419 ]. The flowers are mostly male, with some female flowers and also some bisexual. The male flowers are produced in great quantities, they seem to fall from the tree almost like rain and litter the ground beneath[447 ]. Flowering Time: Late Winter/Early Spring. Bloom Color: Cream/Tan.

Carbon Farming

  • Industrial Crop: Oil  Materials, chemicals and energy include bioplastics, biomass, glycerin, soaps, lubricants, paints, biodiesel. Oilseed crop types.
  • Industrial Crop: Pesticide  Many plants provide natural pesticides.
  • Industrial Crop: Soap  Can be made from edible & inedible plant oils.
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Minor Global Crop  These crops are already grown or traded around the world, but on a smaller scale than the global perennial staple and industrial crops, The annual value of a minor global crop is under $1 billion US. Examples include shea, carob, Brazil nuts and fibers such as ramie and sisal.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a partially shaded position in a nursery seedbed or in individual containers. A low to moderate rate of germination can usually be expected, with the seed sprouting within 20 - 40 days[419 ]. When the seedbed-sown seedlings are 4 - 6cm tall, pot them up into individual containers and they should be ready to plant out 6 - 7 months later[419 ]. The seed stores well even when kept at ambient temperatures and humidity, still germinating satisfactorily after more than 12 months in storage[419 ]. Greenwood cuttings.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Bilo, Checo, Chereco, Cuyas, Focu, Jurupe, Pacon, Sasabila, Tasabia, amole, amole de bolita, bibi, bois de panama, boliche, casita-rá, cholulo, cuentas del xabon, devanador, false dogwood, fruta-de-sabão, gualulo, ina sasili, jaboncillo, jamoncillo, jequiriguaçú, jitó, manele, matamuchacho, palo blanco, palo de cueatas, palo jabon, palo jabón, para-para, pau-de-sabão, pipal, pipe, quillai iba-ro, saboeira, sabonete, saboneteira, sabão-de-macaco, sabão-de-soldado, savonnier, savonnier des antilles, seifenbaum, soapberry, soaptree, southern soapberry, såpbärsträd, tehoitzli, tehuistle, tehuixtle, tehuiztle, western soapberry, wing-leaf soapberry, wingleaf soapberry, yamole (nahuatli), yamolli, yuquití.

Mexico; Belize; Guatemala; Honduras; Nicaragua; Costa Rica; Panama; Colombia; Bolivia, Plurinational State of; Ecuador; Paraguay?; Peru; Brazil; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of; Guyana; Suriname?; French Guiana?; Bahamas; Cayman Islands; Virgin Islands, U.S.; Virgin Islands, British; Antigua and Barbuda; Cuba; Dominican Republic; Haiti; Puerto Rico; Barbados; Dominica; Grenada; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Guadeloupe; Martinique; Montserrat; Saint Bathélemy; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba; Trinidad and Tobago; United States, Africa, Antilles, Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Burundi, Cape Verde, Caribbean, Central Africa, Central America, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Dominican Republic, East Africa, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, French Guiana, Ghana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinée, Guyana, Haiti, Hawaii, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Laos, Liberia, Mexico, Mozambique, Nicaragua, North Africa, North America, Panama, Papua New Guinea, PNG, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, SE Asia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South America*, Suriname, Tanzania, Trinidad & Tobago, USA, Venezuela, West Africa, West Indies, Zimbabwe,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Sapindus drummondiiWestern SoapberryTree12.0 7-10 SLMHNDM113
Sapindus marginatusWingleaf soapberryTree15.0 7-10 SLMHNDM103
Sapindus mukorossiChinese Soapberry, Soap Berry, Chinese Soapberry, Soapnut TreeTree20.0 8-12 FLMHNDM124

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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