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Publication #ENH-565

Melia azedarach: Chinaberry1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2

Introduction

Chinaberry is a round, deciduous, shade tree, reaching 30 to 40 feet at maturity and growing five to 10 feet during the first and second year after seed germination. Growth slows as the tree reaches 15 or 20 feet tall. It is successfully grown in a wide variety of situations, including alkaline soil where other trees might fail. Truly an urban survivor, Chinaberry has become naturalized in much of the south.

Figure 1. 

Mature Melia azedarach: Chinaberry


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Melia azedarach
Pronunciation: MEEL-ee-uh uh-ZEE-duh-rack
Common name(s): Chinaberry
Family: Meliaceae
USDA hardiness zones: 7A through 10B (Fig. 2)
Origin: not native to North America
Invasive potential: According to the IFAS Assessment of the Status of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas (Fox et al. 2005), Melia azerdarach (chinaberry) is: invasive and not recommended for use in the northern and central zones of Florida (but to see if any exceptions for specified and limited use have been approved since publication, check the Conclusions table at: http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/assessment ); may be used with caution in southern Florida, but should be managed to prevent its escape(counties are listed by zone at: http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/assessment ).
Uses: urban tolerant
Availability: not native to North America

Figure 2. 

Range


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Description

Height: 30 to 40 feet
Spread: 15 to 25 feet
Crown uniformity: irregular
Crown shape: round
Crown density: open
Growth rate: fast
Texture: fine

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: bipinnately compound, odd-pinnately compound
Leaf margin: serrate, lobed, incised
Leaf shape: ovate, elliptic (oval)
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: less than 2 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: yellow
Fall characteristic: showy

Flower

Flower color: lavender
Flower characteristics: not showy

Fruit

Fruit shape: round
Fruit length: less than .5 inch
Fruit covering: fleshy
Fruit color: yellow
Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically one trunk; thorns
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Breakage: susceptible to breakage
Current year twig color: brown
Current year twig thickness: very thick
Wood specific gravity: unknown

Culture

Light requirement: full sun, partial sun or partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate

Other

Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: no
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: free of serious pests and diseases

Figure 3. 

Foliage


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Use and Management

The clusters of lilac flowers are fragrant in the evening but are often hidden by the emerging foliage. The leaves turn a vivid yellow for a short time in the fall. The golden yellow fruit is quite attractive as it persists on the tree during the fall and winter. When eaten in quantities, the fruit is poisonous to people but not to birds. The wood is very brittle but it has been used in cabinet making.

Chinaberry is considered a "weed" tree in the southeastern U.S. and so it is not usually available from nurseries. It is killed back to the ground in the northern end of its range and is often seen as a several-year-old sprout. Many people despise the tree because it has taken over waste areas and other disturbed soil areas, and has naturalized over large areas of the south. It grows anywhere in any soil except wet soil. But with proper pruning to create a well-formed trunk and branch structure, the plant could improve its reputation. If you have one and would like to increase its life-span, prune to open up the crown to encourage development of a few well-spaced major limbs. You will not find anyone recommending planting this tree but fine examples of the tree can be found growing in the worst soil.

Propagation is from seed or root cuttings.

The cultivar `Umbracultiformis' has a dome-like form and could be the plant seen commonly in some wild stands. It is often sold as Texas Umbrella-Tree. It would be nice to find a fruitless selection.

Pests and Diseases

Scale, whitefly and sooty mold infest Chinaberry.

Leaf spot causes premature defoliation.

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH-565, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date November 1993. Revised April 2007. Reviewed May 2011. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.