209 Melia azedarachCommon Names: Chinaberry, bead tree, Persian lilac, pride-of-India Family: Meliaceae (mahogany Family)
Chinaberry is a fast-growing, short-lived tree with a rounded crown that reaches about 50 ft (15.2 m) tall with a 20 ft (6.1 m) spread. The bark is reddish brown, becoming fissured on mature trees. The deciduous leaves are bipinnate (twice feather-like) and 1-2 ft (0.3-0.6 m) long. The individual leaflets, each about 2 in (5.1 cm) long and less than half as wide, are pointed at the tips and have toothed edges. In spring and early summer, Chinaberry produces masses of purplish, fragrant, star shaped flowers, each about 3/4 in (1.9 cm) in diameter, that arch or droop in 8 in (2.4 cm) panicles. They are followed by clusters of spherical, yellow fruits about 3/4 in (1.9 cm) in diameter that persist on the trees even after the leaves have fallen.
Texas umbrella Chinaberry or Texas umbrella tree (M. azedarach cv. 'Umbraculiformis') produces upward-arching branches and drooping foliage that make it look like an umbrella. The effect is further enhanced by pollarding, or pruning to a pollard, whereby the tree is cut back to its trunk or to main branches near the trunk. Regrowth then results in a thick cluster of branches all arising from where the cuts were made.
Native originally to northern India, China and the Himalayas, Chinaberry is planted widely in warm climates as an ornamental and shade tree. For more than 200 years it has been popular in the southern US where it is grown for its attractive flowers and for a quick shade tree. Unfortunately, Chinaberry has escaped and become naturalized in many areas and has become a pest, invading natural plant communities and displacing native species.
CultureLight: Partial shade to full sun. Moisture: Tolerates drought. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 9. Will tolerate some frost. Propagation: Mature Chinaberry trees like this one are prone to dropping limbs and generally creating a mess (and endangering nearby structures).
Chinaberry is a tough survivor and is sometimes planted as a street tree. In the Deep South Chinaberry trees are traditionally planted in the yard where they are thought to bring good luck. Homeowners liked the showy lavender flowers in spring and the cool shade provided on hot summer days. Unfortunately the tree reseeds itself handily and also provided the homeowner with quantities of unwanted seedlings that require effort to control.
The shiny, hard seeds are used as beads and for rosaries. Extracts from the bark and fruit have pharmacological properties and are used in China to kill parasitic roundworms.
Chinaberry is listed as a Category I species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. This means that Chinaberry is invading and disrupting natural communities in Florida. It also is reported to be invasive and disruptive in 11 other states, including Hawaii and Texas. Chinaberry seeds are readily dispersed by birds and a single tree in your yard can cause a thicket of Chinaberry trees that shade out native species in the woods around your property. If you have a Chinaberry tree on your property consider cutting it down so that birds will not disperse the seeds. Please encourage others to eliminate this invasive exotic from the landscape.
All parts of Chinaberry tree are poisonous. Eating as few as 6 berries can result in death. Birds (including mockingbirds, robins, and catbirds) that eat too many seeds have been known to become paralyzed.
Jack Scheper 04/02/99; updated 4/26/04