Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Western soapberry trees turning yellow

with 20 comments


Yet another source of fall foliage on our 12-day trip to New Mexico and west Texas was the western soapberry trees (Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii) that I hadn’t expected but was happy to see at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Texas panhandle on October 20th. The place where I found the biggest concentration of them is appropriately called the Soapberry Day Use Area. You’re seeing two pictures from there.



Five weeks later, no identifying sign accompanied the young western soapberry trees I saw
putting on a display of backlit yellow gorgeosity in Austin’s Pease Park on November 30th:




∆        ∆        ∆


Did you hear about the world’s only surviving nonuplets?


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 6, 2023 at 4:28 AM

20 Responses

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  1. The color’s delightful in all three photos, but it’s a nice ‘plus’ that the berries are obvious in the last. The contrast between the trees and the more barren hills in the first photo certainly helps to emphasize that gorgeous gold. The poet may say that “nothing gold can stay,” but this year your golds certainly have hung around a good while.


    January 6, 2023 at 6:21 AM

    • The presence of the dark little fruits on the specimen in the third picture provided the evidence I needed to conclude that the young trees really were western soapberries, something I wasn’t initially sure of. In contrast to that uncertainty, I had no doubt about the value of the backlighting in making the yellow come alive.

      The golds themselves haven’t hung around, even if my posts with pictures of them have. That’s what happens when you take a lot more pictures than you can conveniently show while they’re still recent. As you noted, the fall of 2022 was a good one for photographs, not only out west but also in central Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2023 at 6:54 AM

  2. Oh my one child is enough.

    Alessandra Chaves

    January 6, 2023 at 7:06 AM

  3. That’s a beautiful autumn sight!! I’ve never heard of this tree.


    January 6, 2023 at 8:35 AM

  4. The gold is quite beautiful. Among my favorite gold in autumn is the larch tree. There was one near the stable where I kept my horse in my youth. That tree could light up a dark evening with what seemed like its own internal light.

    Lavinia Ross

    January 6, 2023 at 10:49 AM

    • My sister lives in Larchmont (NY). Not till you I mentioned the larch that lit up your childhood did I think to connect the town’s name to the tree.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2023 at 12:03 PM

  5. We have a lot of soapberry trees on our property. On the west end there are groves of them along the river. I’ve seen deer eat them when they’ve fallen and appear to be a lovely golden color but hard as a rock! Squirrels love them too. I understand they can be used as laundry detergent – just put several in a little mesh bag and toss in the wash. The warmer the water, the more efficiently they work. I’m going to give this a try. Who knows, if the economy continues to tank, I might be gathering soapberries to wash clothes and dishes!


    January 6, 2023 at 5:49 PM

    • What you’ve said about using the fruit as a laundry detergent is how this species of tree came to be called soapberry. If you do try your experiment, let us know how well it turns out. Even if it fails, you’re lucky to have lots of these trees on your property. I hope they put on a good fall display for you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2023 at 8:16 PM

  6. Pretty yellow/blue contrast and graceful branch lines in the second image. Berries in the wash? What an idea.


    January 6, 2023 at 9:16 PM

    • Fortunately I had a lot of yellow/blue contrast during the trip to New Mexico and west Texas, then more back home in Austin.

      Apparently the soapberry fruits worked pretty well. Of course no modern detergents had yet been developed at the time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2023 at 10:14 PM

  7. The yellow of the soapberry trees and the blue sky make a great combination. The trees are really attention grabbers.

    Steve Gingold

    January 7, 2023 at 12:38 PM

    • You know what they say:

      Yellow and blue
      Make a great view.

      Till this past fall I’d fallen short in appreciating soapberry trees’ fall foliage.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 7, 2023 at 2:10 PM

  8. Hey, this is another species that I brought back from Oklahoma. I noticed it in a home garden in Norman, and happened to find a cluster of its odd fruit on the ground in the alley in back. The seed reminded me of Canna seed. Sadly, only two seedlings survived relocation to this garden, and since then, one may have died.


    January 7, 2023 at 7:57 PM

    • You may be one of the few people in California who know about western soapberry. One survivor is better than none.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 7, 2023 at 11:15 PM

      • I found the fruit and seed to be interesting. Otherwise, I can find no justification for growing it. Of course, I do not really need a reason.


        January 7, 2023 at 11:52 PM

  9. I had heard neither of gorgeosity nor of the nonuplets. While I like the gorgeous color combination as well as your neologism, I’m not sure about the latter. Humans were not meant to have litters of babies.


    January 17, 2023 at 7:28 PM

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