Sapindus saponaria (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Sapindus saponaria L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 1: 367 (1753).


Sapindus mukorossi Gaertner (1788), Sapindus vitiensis A. Gray (1854), Sapindus microcarpus Jardin (1857).

Vernacular names

  • Soap-berry tree, soap-nut (En)
  • Philippines: tikastikas (Tagalog), kasibeng (Ibanag, Iloko), malapalitpit (Pampango)
  • Vietnam: bồ hòn, vô hoạn tử.


Originating from tropical and subtropical America, widely cultivated and naturalized in the tropics and subtropics, in Asia from India to China and Japan; in Malesia confined to the Philippines, the Lesser Sunda Islands and Papua New Guinea (Central Province).


Roots, bark, leaves, but especially fruits are used as a substitute for soap. The fruits are applied as a fish poison and as a leech repellent. In the Philippines the bark is used for washing the hair, and crushed leaves for removing stains from the skin. In Vietnam a decoction of macerated bark is applied to kill head and body lice. The fruits are employed as a skin wash to remove tan and freckles. The kernel is recommended for bad breath, gum boils and tooth decay. A seed decoction taken internally acts as an expectorant. In Taiwan the flowers are a recommended medication for conjunctivitis and various eye diseases. In South and Central America the fruits are commonly used in traditional medicine, mainly in external applications to treat arthritis, rheumatism, gout, tumours and leprous swellings. Fibre from the inner bark may be used for ropes.


A tree up to 25 m tall, bole up to 55 cm in diameter; leaves 1-5-jugate, up to 40 cm long, glabrous, petiole terete to 3-angular, 1.5-5.5 cm long, rachis variably marginated or winged, leaflets (sub-)opposite, elliptical to lanceolate, mostly slightly oblique and falcate, 6-16 cm × 3-6 cm, base cuneate, apex emarginate or obtuse to acute; inflorescence up to 25 cm long, densely tomentose; flowers regular, cream, sepals concave, mostly with a broad petaloid margin, ciliolate and with some appressed hairs near the base, petals 5, oblong-ovate to ovate, 1.5-2.5 mm × 1-1.2 mm, scale represented by a hairy ridge or 2 auricles, disk annular, pistil c. 2 mm long; drupe subglobular, 0.8-1.2 cm in diameter, not carinate. In Malesia three geographically disjunct races can be discerned. S. saponaria is found in more or less open, mostly secondary forest up to 500 m altitude.

Selected sources

117, 247, 646, 671, 732, 783, 926.

Main genus page


Lucie Widowati