Fact Sheet

Chinaberrytree (Melia azedarach L.)

September 21, 2007

Plant. Deciduous tree to 50 feet (15 m) in height and 2 feet (60 cm) in diameter, much branched with multiple boles, lacy dark-green leaves having a musky odor, and clusters of lavender flowers in spring yielding persistent, poisonous yellow berries.

Stem. Twigs stout, glossy greenish-brown with light dots (lenticels). No terminal bud. Numerous broad, V-shaped, raised leaf scars with three bundle scars below a domed fuzzy bud. Bark dark chocolate brown and becoming increasingly fissured with age. Wood soft and white.

Leaves. Alternately whorled, bipinnately compound, 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 cm) long and 9 to 16 inches (23 to 40 cm) wide. Leafstalk lime green with base slightly clasping stem. Each leaflet lanceolate with tapering tips, 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 8 cm) long and 0.5 to 1.2 inches (1 to 3 cm) wide. Margins varying from entire to coarsely crenate to serrate and wavy. Glossy dark green with light-green midvein above and pale green with lighter-green midvein beneath, becoming golden yellow in fall.

Flowers. March to May. Showy panicles from lower axils of new stems. Five pinkish-lavender to whitish petals, stamens united in dark-purple tube. Five green sepals. Fragrant.

Fruit and seeds. July to January. Berrylike spherical drupe 0.5 to 0.7 inch (1.2 to 1.8 cm) wide persisting through winter and containing a stone with one to six seeds. Light green turning yellowish green then yellowish tan. Poisonous to humans and livestock.

Ecology. Common on roadsides, at forest margins, and around old homesites but rare at high elevations. Semishade tolerant. Forms colonies from root sprouts or sprouts from root collars, and spreads by bird-dispersed abundant seeds.

Resembles common elderberry, Sambucus canadensis L., a spreading crowned shrub with once pinnately compound leaves, margins finely serrate, and green to dark-purple berries in flat-topped clusters.

History and use. Introduced in the mid-1800s from Asia. Widely planted as a traditional ornamental around homesites. Extracts potentially useful for natural pesticides.

Recommended control procedures:

Trees. Make stem injections using Arsenal AC* , Pathway*, Pathfinder II, or Garlon 3A in dilutions and cut spacings specified on the herbicide label (anytime except March and April). For felled trees, apply these herbicides to stem and stump tops immediately after cutting.

Saplings. Apply Garlon 4 as a 20-percent solution in commercially available basal oil, diesel fuel, or kerosene (2.5 quarts per 3-gallon mix) with a penetrant (check with herbicide distributor) to young bark as a basal spray.

Sprouts and seedlings. Thoroughly wet all leaves with one of the following herbicides in water with a surfactant (July to October): Garlon 3A or Garlon 4 as a 2-percent solution (8 ounces per 3-gallon mix); Arsenal AC* as a 1-percent solution (4 ounces per 3-gallon mix).

* Nontarget plants may be killed or injured by root uptake.

From: Miller, James H. 2003. Nonnative invasive plants of southern forests: a field guide for identification and control. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-62. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 93 p.