Melia azedarach. CHINABERRY. Persia to Australia
MELIACEAE (Mahogany family)

This deciduous tree is very pretty when covered in lilac blossoms in May and is also fragrant. The bipinnate leaves are well over a foot long but the general effect is delicate because the pointed leaflets, which are slightly toothed, are relatively small, not much over an inch long. The chinaberry has probably the largest leaves of any trees on campus (excepting palms and tree ferns); leaves can be 24 inches long with 59 leaflets. The cherry-sized berries, yellow when ripe, contain a white, bony, fluted nut that can be dried in the sun, attractively polished, and is used for rosaries in Asian temples, especially in Iran, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka. It is fun to plant one of these nuts and see what happens when it germinates.

Although the fragrant sprays of flowers are big, the flowers themselves are small, consisting of five or six lilac petals and a dark tube bearing 10 anthers. Chinaberry grows in very dry conditions in Persia but is also a native of the coastal rain forest of New South Wales and Queensland, where, from the appearance of the durable timber, it is known as white cedar. It is successful when planted in areas of severe drought and has been introduced in the Mediterranean and throughout the Americas, growing wild in the Southern United States. In English literature the tree shows up as bead tree, neem, pride of India, Indian lilac, and margosa. Under the name neem tree it is widely distributed in India, where it has assorted historical uses in medicine and has a role in rainmaking. A specimen north of the Mausoleum, near the giant deodar cedar, is quite old. Six trees of Australian origin that I planted in April 1976 on Stanford Avenue opposite Peter Coutts Road have performed very well in heavy adobe without watering. March 2006 young trees were planted on the east side of the New Guinea Garden, Art Gallery on the Cummings Art bldg. side, northeast corner of the Roble Parking lot, and Grounds Nursery.

Illustration: McMinn, Howard E. and Evelyn Maino. 1951. An illustrated manual of Pacific coast trees; with lists of trees recommended for various uses on the Pacific coast by H. W. Shepherd. 2d ed. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

Illustrations (links open new windows): habit | fruit

Additions/Revisions:

Name derivation, genus | species Greek word melia (ash), referring to similarity of leaves to those of Fraxinus | Persian word azaddhirakt (ash tree)

Related material:

Botanical name index | Common name index | Family
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