I took my dog out in search of the first tree that caught my eye, the Soapberry. Even though I’ve used soap nuts for laundry, I’d never heard of this tree or at least I never thought one would grow in our climate. Apparently the Sapindus Mukorossi is the variety used to grow the commercial nuts. These trees grow in India, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
According to the USDA the variety found in City Park, Sapindus drummondii, is native to a number of states including Colorado. The tree produces green berries which grow in a straight line, turn bright red, and then a wrinkly reddish brown.
Information on uses for the seeds is scarce and conflicting as the European charity Plants for a Future says the seeds and fruit are poisonous while other sites list some medicinal uses. Trade Winds Fruit suggests you can use the fruit and seed together to produce a soap substitute. One blog included a recipe for making a cleaning solution, although the berries used may have come from a different tree in the Sapindaceae family. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center calls Sapindus drummondii Western Soapberry as well as other names such as chinaberry. I collected a small number of these seeds and when they are dried, I will attempt to make a soap and report back on how it turned out.
While Charles Kane’s Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest and some Native American websites discuss the medicinal uses of the tree, it should be noted that the berries contain saponins and these are generally listed as a toxin. Many of the plants included in Poisonous and Psychoactive Plants by Jim Meuninck include saponins as part of their chemical makeup. Michael Moore’s Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West does not list any uses for the Soapberry tree. For these reasons, it would be prudent to stick to making liquid soap or jewelry from the berries!
LOCATION. The specimen in City Park is near the Eastern edge of the ballpark parking lot, on the south side of the entrance. To find it, drive west on Oak Street. At the intersection of Bryan and Oak, keep going west across the stone bridge and the tree as on the South side of the small peninsula of grass. It is E51 on the map and listing in the City Park Arboretum list.