Melia azedarach (MELIACEAE) White Cedar

Plants to Plant

Small to medium tree in subtropical and dry rainforest, mostly on margins and in regrowth. Deciduous. Almost a pantropical weed, and weedy outside its range. Found throughout Asia, China and India. Native from Iran to northern Australia. When burnt has very high ash alkalinity, which can help neutralise soil acidity. A bad weed in the USA. Branches stout, with purplish bark and dotted with buff-colored lenticels. Leaves are twice to three times compound, alternate, and puberulent to glabrous. Leaflets are 2-8 cm long, serrate or crenate, dark green above, often with sparse hairs along the veins and lighter green and generally smooth below. The fruit is a stalked, one-seeded drupe that is greenish yellow to yellowish tan, globose, and 1-1.5 cm in diameter. M. azedarach is distinguished from other members of the Meliaceae by the nature of its compound leaves and by its drooping, persistent clusters of yellowish fruits. Similar superficially to Golden Rain Tree Koelreuteria elegans which does not have strictly opposite leaflets like M. azedarach.

Photo: Robert Whyte


The inflorescence is a panicle from leaf axils and from leafless nodes on the lower part of the new growth. Sepals are green, 1.5-2 mm long. Petals are pinkish lavender, ligulate, 1-1.3 cm long. Stamens are united into a cylindrical, dark purple tube, 6-8 mm long, cut at the apex into 15-25 slender teeth. Each flower has ten anthers. Flowers are fragrant. In the mahogany family Meliaceae, it is also know as Persian Lilac, Japanese Bead Tree, Chinaberry, Pride of India, Cape Lilac, Texas Umbrella Tree and Dygal. Melia, Greek name of Manna Ash, referring to the resemblance of the leaves to those of the ash; azedarach from Persian Azad-darakht the name applied to the common Indian Neem Ttree.

Photo: Robert Whyte