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3 May 2012

Melia azedarach - Persian Lilac - Indian Bead Tree


Melia azedarach trees are currently in flower throughout Tunisia and the streets are fragrant with their sweet scented flowers. 

Leaves, flowers and fruit of Melia azedarach


Delicate clusters of lilac flowers of the Melia azedarach


"Melia azedarach, commonly known as bead-tree or Cape lilac, is a species of deciduous tree in the mahogany family, Meliaceae, that is native to Pakistan, India, Indochina, Southeast Asia and Australia. The genus Melia includes four other species, occurring from southeast Asia to northern Australia. They are all deciduous or semi-evergreen trees.

The adult tree has a rounded crown, and commonly measures attains a height of 7-12 metres, however in exceptional circumstances M. azedarach can attain a height of 45 metres. 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.

The leaves are up to 50 cm long, alternate, long-petioled, 2 or 3 times compound (odd-pinnate); the leaflets are dark green above and lighter green below, with serrate margins.

Uses and ecology
Melia azedarach in keeping with other members of the family Meliaceae has a timber of high quality, but as opposed to many almost-extinct species of mahogany it is under-utilised.

The hard, 5-grooved seeds were widely used for making rosaries and other products requiring beads, before their replacement by modern plastics.

Toxicity
Fruits are poisonous to humans if eaten in quantity.  Leaves have been used as a natural insecticide to keep with stored food, but must not be eaten as they are highly poisonous.

As invasive species
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.  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 in good shape."


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