Sapindus saponaria var. saponaria

leaf Main Plant Information






  • saponaria

Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Aʻe
  • Mānele

Hawaiian Names

  • Ae
  • Manele

Common Names

  • Hawaiian soapberry
  • Soap seed
  • Soapberry
  • Western soapberry
  • Wingleaf soapberry

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Tree, Medium, 30 to 50
  • Tree, Large, Greater than 50

Mature Size, Width

Canopy width is nearly equal to the height in mature trees but does vary with the conditions of the habitat or growing environment.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Provides Shade
  • Screening
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

The are very beautiful trees for the landscape. The bark of young manele is light brown and smooth. In mature trees it falls off in large scales exposing the smooth inner layers. [2]

Even though the trees are naturally found at fairly high elevations, they do well in low, dry urban locations as well.

They can grow very large, so it is good to consider this when choosing a planting site. Envision how the tree will appear in the future and provide it plenty of space to showcase it's beauty. A great place to see mature mānele trees is at the Urban Garden in Pearl City, next to Home Depot.

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type


Flower Colors

  • Cream
  • White

Additional Flower Color Information

Mānele produces copious amounts of whitish flower sprays.

Blooming Period

  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Bright reddish-brown to honey colored fruits follow flowering.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Coarse

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Red spider mites can be problematic.

leaf Growth Requirements


When younger 13-13-13 slow release fertilizer is beneficial. Mānele saplings do appreciate foliar feeding in early morning with a water-soluble or an organic fertilizer (e.g. kelp or fish emulsion) at one-third to one-fourth the recommended strength every other month.

Water Requirements

  • Moist

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Spacing Information

These are large trees often with a wide canopy.


  • Drought
  • Wind

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 3000 to 3999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 4000 to 4999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)


  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

Naturally known from Hualālai, Mauna Loa and Kīlauea on Hawai'i Island from about 2950 to nearly 4500 feet in mesic forests.

This indigenous tree is widespread in tropical America from northern Mexico to Brazil and Argentina and throughout the West Indies, Purto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. It is also native to Florida and rare in Georgia.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Mānele (Sapindus oahuensis) belongs to the large international Soapberry family or Sapindaceae. Other well known family members include maple (Acer spp.), horse chestnut, guarana, lychee, longan, and rambutan.

Native members include lonomea or āulu (Sapindus oahuensis), māhoe (Alectryon macrococcus), and ʻaʻaʻliʻ (Dodonaea viscosa).


The generic name Sapindus is derived from Latin sapo, or soap, and indicus, Indian.

The speicific epithet saponaria, similar to the generic name, is from the Latin saponis, or soap-like, referring to the saponin or soapy substance that comes from the fleshy seeds.

Background Information

Two varieties of Sapindus saponaria are recognized with one indigenous to Hawaiʻi:

  • var. drummondii, known as Western Soapberry is naturally found in the southwestern United States to northern Mexico.
  • var. saponaria, known as Wingleaf Soapberry is naturally from the southeastern United States, the Caribbean, Central and South America to Brazil and Argentina, the Pacific (Rapa Nui, Pitcairn I., Cook Is. Marquesas, the Society Is.), Africa, and the island of Hawaiʻi. [7,8]

Otto Degener (1899-1998), botanist in Hawaiʻi, observed that the dried fruits have an air space within that helps them to float in water. He observed that about half the seeds, without fruit, also would float. Seeds are often found in beach drift on various islands thus explaining the disjunct distribution of this species. Botanist Joseph F. Rock (1884-1962) found that the Hawaiian trees attain a larger size in height and trunk diameter than anywhere on the mainland. [6]

Mānele is one of a few native Hawaiian trees that are deciduous or partly deciduous, that is, that they seasonally loose their leaves.

The heavy and hard sapwood is whitish and the heartwood is yellow or light brown. [6]

The seeds and leaves are reported as being toxic if eaten. [1]

Early Hawaiian Use

The beautiful black seeds were strung as permanent lei or necklaces. [4]

Apparently the pulp of the fruit was used as a soap for shampooing hair and washing clothes in the past. [4]

Modern Use

The jet black seeds can be strung on lei as they were in times past. [3,4,5]

Uses Outside of Hawaiʻi:

The hard wood is used for posts and in capentry. [6]

In tropical America, crushed seeds are added to water to act as a fish poison. An insecticide, as well as medicinal uses, have been made from grounded seeds. [6]

The seeds are used as necklaces and rosaries, marbles, and formerly as buttons. [6]

This also a common shade tree in tropical America and classed as a "honey tree." Medicinally, the roots and leaves have been used as infusions. [6]

Additional References

[1] "Hawai'i's Seeds and Seed Leis-An Indentification Guide" by Laurie Shimizu Ide, pages 108-109, 116.
[2] "The Indigenous Trees of the Hawaiian Islands" by Joseph F. Rock, page 271.

[3] "Hawaiian Seed Lei Making--Step-by-Step Guide" by Laurie Shimizu Ide pages 120-121.

[4] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Tresured Lei" by Marie McDonald & Paul Weissich, page 5.

[5] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, page 533.

[6] "Common Forest Trees of Hawaii (Native and Introduced)" by Elbert L. Little Jr. and Roger G. Skolmen, pages 208, 210.

[7] USDA Germplasm Resources Information Network [Accesed on 11/26/11]

[8]  Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER) [Accesed on 11/26/11]



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