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 Sapindus subsp. var.  
Sapindus emarginatus in Hyderabad W IMG 4650.jpg
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Lifespan: perennial
Features: evergreen, deciduous
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Sapindaceae > Sapindus var. ,

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Sapindus is a genus of about five to twelve species of shrubs and small trees in the Lychee family, Sapindaceae, native to warm temperate to tropical regions in both the Old World and New World. The genus includes both deciduous and evergreen species. Common names include soapberry and soapnut, both names referring to the use of the crushed seeds to make soap.

The leaves are alternate, 15 - 40 cm long, pinnate, with 14-30 leaflets, the terminal leaflet often absent. The flowers form in large panicles, each flower small, creamy white. The fruit, called a soap nut, is a small leathery-skinned drupe 1 - 2 cm in diameter, yellow ripening blackish, containing one to three seeds.

Soap nuts contain saponins, a natural surfactant. They have been used for washing for thousands of years by various peoples, such as the Native Americans.[1] Today, soapberries are being considered for commercial use in cosmetics and detergents, among many other products.[2]

Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Sapindus (Latin, soap and Indian, alluding to use of the fruit as soap in India). Sapindaceae. Soap-Berry. Trees or shrubs, sometimes somewhat climbing, of economic use and sometimes used as ornamentals.

Leaves alternate, without stipules, abruptly pinnate or simple, 1-lvd. in one species; the lfts entire, rarely serrate: racemes or panicles terminal or axillary: fls. polygamous, regular; sepals 4-5, in 2 rows; petals 4-5, naked or bearing 1 or 2 glabrous or villous scales above the claw; disk annular; stamens 8-10: berry fleshy or leathery; seeds frequently globose, with a bony testa and no aril, black or nearly so.—About 15 species, tropical regions of the world.

The fruit has an alkaline principle known as saponin which makes it useful for cleansing purposes. The fruit was much used in eastern countries before the introduction of soap and is still preferred for washing the hair and cleansing delicate fabrics like silk. The seeds of some species are used for making rosaries, necklaces, and the like.

The soapberry trees in cultivation are evergreen or rarely deciduous trees with pinnate, rather large foliage and with terminal large panicles of small whitish flowers followed by berry-like globose orange-brown to black fruits. With the exception of S. Drummondii, which has proved fairly hardy in sheltered positions as far north as Massachusetts, they can be grown in subtropical regions only, but S. Mukorossi is apparently somewhat hardier than the rest. They are sometimes planted for ornament in the southern states and in southern California and some, particularly S. Mukorossi var. carinatus, may possibly be profitably planted for their fruits which are rich in saponin. They do well in rather dry and rocky or sandy soil. Propagation is by seeds which germinate readily and by hardwood cuttings in early spring. CH

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.



Pests and diseases


The number of species is disputed between different authors, particularly in North America where between one and three species are accepted.



  1. Austin, Daniel F.; P. Narodny Honychurch (2004). Florida Ethnobotany. CRC Press. pp. 601–603. ISBN 9780849323324. 
  2. Stoffels, Karin (September 2008). "Soap Nut Saponins Create Powerful Natural Surfactant". Personal Care Magazine (Jeen International Corporation). 

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