Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Western Soapberry

Western Soapberry: berries turning golden brown
Now here's a native Texas tree, botanically related to the Golden Rain Tree, that provides good fall color and interesting gray bark.  As natural areas give way to housing and commercial developments, this pretty tree's continued survival in the wild is threatened.  It's a nice smaller-scale tree for urban environments and could be adapted to home and garden use.  If you're looking for a front-yard tree, think about Western Soapberry!

Western Soapberry: berries unripe.
Western Soapberry, or Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii, is a deciduous tree that ranges in height from 10 to 40 feet.  Soapberry flowers are white and usually appear in May or June, but far more striking are the golden berries of October.  These little fruits contain saponin and have been used as a soap substitute for quite some time.  Don't eat them, though -- they are toxic if ingested.

Bipinnate leaves of Western Soapberry
The variety name of Western Soapberry honors Thomas Drummond, a botanist, naturalist and explorer.  Mr. Drummond collected 750 plant species in Texas between 1833 and 1835, with particular focus on the area between Galveston Island and the Edwards Plateau.  If you're a Texan, you know this was a pretty untamed place back then!  Mr. Drummond died in Cuba on a plant collecting trip.  Many of our best-loved plants carry his name.

Here's more information about Texas History and the Western Soapberry.  Enjoy!


  1. Do you know where western soapberry trees can be bought here in the Houston area?

  2. I think the best place would be the Native Plant Society's annual sale in the fall. Linda Knowles is the contact and here is their "contact" page:

    If you email her she'll give you info about their sale which is usually in September and you can specifically request the tree - maybe then can arrange to have one for you.

    Good luck,
    Elizabeth Barrow

  3. Great shade tree but very messy.