Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Chinaberry

Melia azedarach is a species of deciduous tree in the mahogany family, Meliaceae, that is native to India, southern China and Australia. Common names include Persian Lilac, White Cedar, Chinaberry, Bead Tree, Lunumidella, Ceylon Cedar and malai vembu (மலை வேம்பு). In South Africa it is commonly but erroneously called Syringa, which is in fact the lilac genus. The genus Melia includes four other species, occurring from southeast Asia to northern Australia. They are all deciduous or semi-evergreen trees.

Indian Grey Hornbill Ocyceros birostris eating its fruit at Roorkee in Haridwar District of Uttarakhand, India.

The adult tree has a rounded crown, and measures between 7 and 12 metres in height. The flowers are small and fragrant, with five pale purple or lilac petals, growing in clusters. The fruit is a drupe, marble-sized, light yellow at maturity, hanging on the tree all winter, and gradually becoming wrinkled and almost white. In Australian rainforests, Melia azedarach can attain a height of 45 metres.

The leaves are up to 50 cm long, alternate, long-petioled, 2 or 3 times compound (odd-pinnate); the leaflets are dark green above and lighter green below, with serrate margins. They have been used as a natural insecticide to keep with stored food, but must not be eaten as they are highly poisonous. A diluted infusion of leaves and trees has been used in the past to induce uterus relaxation.

The plant was introduced around 1830 as an ornamental in the United States (South Carolina and Georgia) and widely planted in southern states. Today it is considered an invasive species by some groups as far north as Virginia and Oklahoma. But nurseries continue to sell the trees, and seeds are also widely available. It has become naturalized to tropical and warm temperate regions of the Americas and is planted in similar climates around the world. Besides the problem of toxicity, its usefulness as a shade tree in urban areas is diminished by its tendency to sprout where unwanted and to turn sidewalks into dangerously slippery surfaces when the fruits fall, though this is not a problem where songbird populations are in good shape. As noted above, the possibility of commercially profitable harvesting of feral stands remains largely unexplored.


See also: Gift Basket, Flowers Barbados, Flower Arrangements

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