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Trees bees use - Soapnut Sapindus emarginatus

by K Lakshmi and Mohana Rao, Central Bee Research Training Institute, Pune, India


Native to South India Sapindus emarginatus is found wild or introduced in tropical and sub-tropical regions, particularly the Indo-Malayan region.


In South India Sapindus emarginatus is common in coastal regions and in open forests at low elevations. It is cultivated to line avenues and the boundaries of dry, agricultural fields.


A medium to large size deciduous tree growing up to 18 min height with 1.5m growth.

Bark: Grey, shiny, covered with rough deciduous scales.

Leaves: Abruptly pinnate, 12-30 cm long. Leaflets 2-3 pairs, lanceolate, elliptic or oblong, acuminate or emarginate at the tip, dull above.

Flowers: White, polygamous, male flowers, numerous, few bisexual, both found in the same rust pubescent panicles. Bisexual flowers reward pollen and nectar to bees.

Flowering: October-December depending on climatic changes. Flowers open at about 0700 hours.

Pollen: Stamens within flesh disc produce large number of pollen grains. Pollen loads are medium to large and cream coloured. Pollen grains are small, oblate, trizonocolporate, ornamentation psilate.

Fruits: Drupes fleshy, 2-3 drupes partially united, seeds pea-size, enclosed in blackish, hard endocarp.

Wood: yellow and hard.


The kernels are eaten by local people and leaves are cut for animal fodder. Dry fruits of soapnut have been exported from India since ancient times. Soapnuts are largely used as detergents for washing hair and clothes, particularly silk, woollen and other delicate fabrics. They are also used as substitute for soap, and by jewellers for restoring the brightness of ornaments.

Fruits possess several medicinal properties and are widely used for example in the treatment of asthma, colic and dysentery, and during childbirth.

Practical notes

Raised by direct sowing of the seeds with or without pericarp. Reproduction is also possible using suckers and offsets. The seedlings, offsets or root-suckers are planted at 10-12 m. Sapindus emarginatus thrives in any kind of soil but prefers loamy, clay or black cotton soil.

Apicultural value

Sapindus emarginatus is very valuable honey source. Bees produce surplus of light coloured honey with pleasant aroma. All the Apis species present in India collect its nectar and white pollen in large quantities. During flowering periods bee colonies increase rapidly and develop swarming tendencies. One colony division can be easily made. In dense stands two or three honey harvests can be taken during its bloom. Soapnut honey is much valued in South India.

Recommended for planting to increase honey production.


KRISHNASWAMY, S N (1970) Soapnut tree: nectar source. Indian Bee Journal 32: 83.

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