It wasn’t until my twenties when I started wearing glasses on a regular basis that I realized trees weren’t green blurs, and most people could distinguish individual leaves. Soon after I noticed trunks in all their artistic contortions, various types of bark and burls. Later I tried my hand at marquetry and became enamored of the grains and patterns in wood.
Earlier this month, I joined a short class, All About Trees, taught by local naturalist Kevin Cook. He handed out the list of trees in our city’s City Park. I live near this park. A few years ago, I noticed tags started appearing on various trees. Through reading the tags and utilizing the map the Forestry Department provides, I started to learn the species of trees, some with wonderful names. Currently I know where many of my favorites are located–the championship larch, some old redbuds, a Siberian Larch, crabapples, and weeping mulberries.
I liked the challenge of finding and learning more about each of the trees listed in the Self-Guided Tree Tour and thought my husband’s renewed interest in photography would make for an interesting project to tackle together. My plan is to highlight two or more trees per week until we’ve covered as many of the 220+ we are able to locate. Along with pictures of the trees during the season we’re doing the initial writeup, I hope to go back and add photos for the trees during other seasons.
My hope is this blog will be useful to others who are interested in trees in general and those in City Park in particular.
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 E51on the map and listing in the City Park Arboretum list.