Tree Soap

Our Sugar Maple is blowing bubbles in the rain.
Not to fret: It’s fine, it’s just one of Nature’s Soaps.

After a long dry spell, rain is washing accumulated salts and acids down rough bark—mixing, agitating as it goes—and crude soap is drooling to the ground.
Like shampoo at your feet as you wash your hair in the shower.

“TREE SOAP” is the kind of news I love to share.

Michael was busy when I ran into the kitchen, so I shared to the back of his head, “Our tree is making SOAP!” and then apologized for the distraction. 

“Don’t be sorry, I love when you chatter. I live to hear you chatter.”

I explained (to the back of his head) the tree bubbles we’d seen earlier: “It’s rain + salt + acid!

I mentioned lye soap—like what I buy from the Foxfire lady—which is made from pig fat (acid) and wood ash (lye salts).

“You should wash something,” he volunteered, which proves he sometimes listens to the chatter.

“Wash something? Brilliant!”

“But don’t catch some horrible disease and die,” he added, which proves he sometimes doubts my Nature doings, especially if the doings involve ooze.

I caught some ooze in a jar.

While it collected, I schemed: Okay, I’ll cut a muddy rag into three pieces:
one I wash in water,
one I wash in lye soap,
and one I wash in tree bubbles.


“Shoot,” I told the back of Michael’s head when I came in from the rain. He was now busy grading essays. “There’s barely enough soap for a Barbie rag.” 

Which is when I remembered there was a box of vintage Barbie garments in the attic. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I washed one with tree soap?

Maybe. But opening a box of Barbie detritus unseen for years can really derail a day. How can I not empty the ziploc of go-go boots? How can I not fondle the frying pan (with permanent egg!), or unfold the wee paper map, or “pour” Champagne into orange goblets arranged on a tray?

By the time I went back outside with my 1971 Barbie tunic, the soap bubbles had popped
and so had my enthusiasm. 

But, at least I got a photo of a fabulous, vintage tunic. Not only does it match fall Sugar Maple leaves, it is handmade. Mom sewed it for my sisters’ dolls back when grown-up ladies actually wore such things (with go-go boots).

And, I have a new Wonderful Thing to look for whenever a good, soaking rain breaks a long, dry spell:

Note: Tree soap can most likely form on any kind of tree, but my guess is that the bumpier the bark, the foamier the soap. I would love to compare two adjacent trees the same size: one with rough bark, one with smooth.

The link below mentions the same foam can form on newly-wet streets, where agitation is provided by the rain itself and car tires.

Article from the official blog of Vermont State Parks: “What’s with the foam I saw on the trees yesterday?”

More #SidewalkNature:

My Instagram posts are 100% nature, and most of it the Sidewalk kind.

I’m not fond of facebook, but some people aren’t on Instagram, so I post nature things there from time to time.

Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.

She writes about everyday natural wonders amid every habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative NonfictionBrevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, City Creatures, The Fourth River and other journals.

3 thoughts on “Tree Soap

  1. I see your Barbie tunic still has it’s homemade coat hanger. Is it only sugar maples that make tree soap?

    1. Great question! I added a Note that soap can form on any tree, given the right circumstances.
      You and I need to talk about Barbies. I didn’t keep the entire collection, but there are enough accessories here to trigger a million memories of Backyard Barbie Scenarios.

    2. As usual, you make me laugh, between the hubby/wife exchange, and the memory lane of Barbies….you bring a bright spot to this very gloomy day!

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