Melia azedarach

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Melia azedarach
Melia azedarach 01434.jpg
Leaves, flowers, and fruit
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Meliaceae
Genus: Melia
M. azedarach
Binomial name
Melia azedarach
  • Azedara speciosa Raf.
  • Azedarach commelinii Medik.
  • Azedarach deleteria Medik.
  • Azedarach fraxinifolia Moench
  • Azedarach odoratum Noronha
  • Azedarach sempervirens Kuntze
  • Azedarach sempervirens var. glabrior (C.DC.) Kuntze
  • Azedarach sempervirens f. incisodentata Kuntze
  • Azedarach sempervirens f. longifoliola Kuntze
  • Azedarach sempervirens f. subdentata Kuntze
  • Melia azedarach var. intermedia (Makino) Makino
  • Melia azedarach var. subtripinnata Miq.
  • Melia azedarach var. toosendan (Siebold & Zucc.) Makino
  • Melia bukayun Royle
  • Melia cochinchinensis M.Roem.
  • Melia commelini Medik. ex Steud.
  • Melia composita Benth.
  • Melia florida Salisb.
  • Melia guineensis G.Don
  • Melia japonica G.Don
  • Melia japonica var. semperflorens Makino
  • Melia orientalis M.Roem.
  • Melia sambucina Blume
  • Melia sempervirens Sw.
  • Melia toosendan Siebold & Zucc. [2]

Melia azedarach, commonly known as the chinaberry tree,[3] pride of India,[4] bead-tree, Cape lilac,[3] syringa berrytree,[3] Persian lilac,[3] Indian lilac, or white cedar,[5] is a species of deciduous tree in the mahogany family, Meliaceae, that is native to Indomalaya and Australasia.[6]


The fully grown tree has a rounded crown, and commonly measures 7–12 metres (20–40 feet) tall, exceptionally 45 m (150 ft).[7]

The leaves are up to 50 centimetres (20 inches) long, alternate, long-petioled, two or three times compound (odd-pinnate); the leaflets are dark green above and lighter green below, with serrate margins.

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.


Italo et al 2009 and Safithri and Sari 2016 report flavonoids and phenols found in M. azedarach.[8]: 490 


The genus name Melia is derived from μελία (melía), the Greek word used by Theophrastus (c. 371 – c. 287 BC) for Fraxinus ornus,[9][10] which has similar leaves.[11] The species azedarach is from the French 'azédarac' which in turn is from the Persian 'āzād dirakht' (ازادرخت ) meaning 'free- or noble tree'.[12][full citation needed]

Melia azedarach should not be confused with the Azadirachta trees, which are in the same family, but a different genus.


Indian grey hornbill (Ocyceros birostris) eating Melia azedarach fruit at Roorkee in Haridwar, District of Uttarakhand, India.

Some hummingbirds like the sapphire-spangled emerald (Amazilia lactea), glittering-bellied emerald (Chlorostilbon lucidus) and planalto hermit (Phaethornis pretrei) have been recorded as feeding on and pollinating the flowers; these only take it opportunistically.[13]

As an invasive species[edit]

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.[14] 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 the United States 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 robust[citation needed]. As noted above, the possibility of commercially profitable harvesting of feral stands remains largely unexplored.


The fruits have evolved to be eaten by animals, which eat the flesh surrounding the hard endocarp or ingest the entire fruit and later vent the endocarp. If the endocarp is crushed or damaged during ingestion or digestion, the animal will be exposed to the toxins within the seed. The processes of mastication and digestion, and the degree of immunity to the particular toxins, vary widely between species, and there will accordingly be great variation in the clinical symptoms following ingestion.[15]

Fruits are poisonous or narcotic to humans[16] if eaten in quantity.[17] However. these toxins are not harmful to birds, who gorge themselves on the fruit, eventually reaching a "drunken" state. The birds that are able to eat the fruit spread the seeds in their droppings. The toxins are neurotoxins and unidentified resins, found mainly in the fruits. The first symptoms of poisoning appear a few hours after ingestion. They may include loss of appetite, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, bloody faeces, stomach pain, pulmonary congestion, cardiac arrest, rigidity, lack of coordination and general weakness. Death may take place after about 24 hours. As in relatives, tetranortriterpenoids constitute an important toxic principle. These are chemically related to azadirachtin, the primary insecticidal compound in the commercially important neem oil. These compounds are probably related to the wood and seed's resistance to pest infestation, and maybe to the unattractiveness of the flowers to animals.[citation needed]

The plant is toxic to cats.[18]


Melia azedarach plank

The main utility of chinaberry is its timber. This is of medium density, and ranges in colour from light brown to dark red. In appearance it is readily confused with the unrelated Burmese teak (Tectona grandis). Melia azedarach, in keeping with other members of the family Meliaceae, has a timber of high quality, but in comparison to many almost-extinct species of mahogany, it is under-utilised. Seasoning is relatively simple — planks dry without cracking or warping and are resistant to fungal infection.

The tough five-grooved seeds were widely used for making rosaries and other products requiring beads; however, the seeds were later replaced by plastics. The cut branches with mature fruit are sold commercially to the florist and landscaping trade particularly as a component for outdoor holiday décor. The fruits may persist for some time prior to shattering off the stem or discoloring, which occurs rapidly after a relatively short time in subfreezing weather.

In Kenya the trees have been grown by farmers and used as fodder trees. The leaves can be fed to cattle to improve milk yields and improve farm incomes.[19] The taste of the leaves is not as bitter as that of the leaves of neem (Azadirachta indica).

In Australia, particularly the suburbs of Melbourne, the tree is often used in nature strip plantings by local councils. The councils plant such trees for amenity reasons as well as environmental, social and economic benefits.[20]

Leaves have been used as a natural insecticide to keep with stored food, but must not be eaten as they are highly poisonous.[21] Chinaberry fruit was used to prevent insect larvae from growing in the fruit. By placing the berries in, for example, drying apples and keeping the fruit turned in the sun without damaging any of the chinaberry skin, the fruit will dry and will prevent insect larvae in the dried apples.[citation needed]

A diluted infusion of leaves and trees has been used in the past to induce uterine relaxation.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Linnaeus, C. (1753)
  2. ^ "Melia azedarach L. — the Plant List". Archived from the original on 11 November 2018. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d "Melia azedarach". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  4. ^ Nelson, Gil (1996). "Meliaceae - Mahogany Family". The Shrubs and Woody Vines of Florida – A Reference and Field Guide. Pineapple Press Inc. p. 213. ISBN 9781561641109.
  5. ^ "Melia azedarach". Australian National Botanic Gardens. Australian Government. 2015. Archived from the original on 26 February 2021. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  6. ^ Mabberley, David J. (5 September 1984). "A Monograph of Melia in Asia and the Pacific: The history of White Cedar and Persian Lilac" (PDF). The Gardens' Bulletin Singapore. 37 (1): 49–64. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 December 2017. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  7. ^ Floyd, A. G. (1989). Rainforest Trees of Mainland South-eastern Australia. Inkata Press. p. 204. ISBN 9780909605575.
  8. ^ Öztürk, Munir; Hakeem, Khalid Rehman, eds. (2018). Plant and human health. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-93997-1. OCLC 1055656284. ISBN 978-3-030-06768-7.
  9. ^ Bailly, Anatole (1 January 1981). Abrégé du dictionnaire grec français. Paris: Hachette. ISBN 2010035283. OCLC 461974285.
  10. ^ Bailly, Anatole. "Greek-french dictionary online". Archived from the original on 5 October 2016. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  11. ^ Quattrocchi, Umberto (2000). CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names. Vol. 3 M-Q. CRC Press. pp. 1650–1651. ISBN 978-0-8493-2677-6. Archived from the original on 11 August 2020. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  12. ^ Merriam-Webster
  13. ^ Baza Mendonça & dos Anjos (2005)
  14. ^ Langeland & Burks
  15. ^ Watt, John Mitchell; Breyer-Brandwijk, Maria Gerdina (1962). The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern Africa. ASIN B0058WI2ZU. AGRIS id US201300681257. CABI ISC 19620605093.
  16. ^ Little, Elbert L. (1994) [1980]. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Western Region (Chanticleer Press ed.). Knopf. p. 517. ISBN 0394507614.
  17. ^ Russell et al. (1997)
  18. ^ "Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List - Cats". ASPCA. Archived from the original on 18 May 2021. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  19. ^ "Fodder trees for more milk and income" (PDF). 2010. Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 July 2019. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  20. ^ "Street and Park Tree Management Strategy". City of Kingston. City of Kingston. Archived from the original on 28 November 2019. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  21. ^ The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants. United States Department of the Army. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. 2009. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-60239-692-0. OCLC 277203364.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)


  • Linnaeus, C[arolus] (1753): Species Plantarum 1: 384–385. Tropicos - Missouri Botanical Garden, Saint Louis, Missouri.
  • Baza Mendonça, Luciana & dos Anjos, Luiz (2005): Beija-flores (Aves, Trochilidae) e seus recursos florais em uma área urbana do Sul do Brasil [Hummingbirds (Aves, Trochilidae) and their flowers in an urban area of southern Brazil]. [Portuguese with English abstract] Revista Brasileira de Zoologia 22(1): 51–59. doi:10.1590/S0101-81752005000100007 PDF fulltext.
  • Langeland, K.A. & Burks, K. Craddock (eds.) (2005): "Melia azedarach". In: Identification and Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas: 96–97. Version of 2005-SEP-05. PDF fulltext.
  • Russell, Alice B.; Hardin, James W. & Grand, Larry (1997): "Melia azedarach". In: Poisonous Plants of North Carolina. Retrieved 2008-JAN-26.

External links[edit]