2016

 
 

Chinaberry, Indian lilac, or in Australia, White cedar, is actually Melia azederach, and is a member of the Mahogany family. This is a spreading deciduous tree, which, unlike most deciduous trees, is never quite bare. In Winter its leafless branches are hung with bunches of pale yellow, bead-like berries. These fruits, or drupes, are a feast to birds in a lean season and many gardeners have planted Chinaberrys specifically to support avian life.

In late spring Chinaberry is covered in beautiful lilac flowers just before the leaves emerge. Seen from afar, these flowers create a cloudy lavender haze which is quite striking and unique. And they are so fragrant and borne so abundantly, that one can hardly resist cutting armloads to bring indoors.

After the bloom the ferny leaves make a lush, dark emerald canopy of foliage through summer, hiding the masses of unripe berries, although the birds still seem to find them.

Chinaberry holds its leaves till autumn when they turn yellow and drop as the fruits ripen. There is some toxicity to the fruit and perhaps the leaves, but it would take a large amount to prove fatal and this is a very rare incident.

Chinaberrys are able to tolerate most any soil, wet or dry; alkaline or acidic. In areas where they grow particularly well, they are often overlooked since they are typically found in older neighborhoods and vacant lots. But its moderate size and graceful shape means it doesn’t out-grow its welcome on a small property and planted close to the house it provides delicious spring perfume and deep summer shade, then allowing sunshine in late winter when its most needed. And Chinaberry grows fast. It is well suited for newer gardens where a quick screen may be desired or a fragrant specimen. It can reach thirty feet, sometimes forty, and if limbed up in youth to give a clean smooth trunk, it will have an attractive upright, rounded form of medium-fine texture.

It is native to Australia and Asia but grows in the UK and much of the US.

One worthy cultivar is ' Jade Snowflake' which has white splashing on the beautiful, glossy green foliage.

Chinaberry

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