Sapindus saponaria  L.  Soapberry ;  Black pearl  - Sapindaceae

This 80 foot tree, Sapindus saponaria, a native of tropical America, was spread by man to the tropics of the Old World.  Both the genus and species names reflect the importance of this plant as a soap to indigenous populations.  Sapindus and saponaria are from Latin sapo (soap).  

The fruit is a fleshy berry containing a black, round seed the size of a marble.  The mashed fruits make water very sudsy.  When woolens are washed in soapberry the saponins in the plant give woolens and silks a brighter, fresher look.  In the early 20th century in South America this method improved the appearance of goods for sale in Europe.9 In India the color of commercial cardamoms was heightened by a wash in soapberry.

The tree has a common name of para para in the Americas and Easter Island.  Thor Heyderdahl cites this as evidence that these two areas had prehistoric contact.10