Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants - Online edition

Melia azedarach L.

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Flower. © R.L. Barrett
Flowers. © Barry Jago
Fruit, side views, seed and seed cross section. © W. T. Cooper
Leaves and Flowers. © CSIRO
Scale bar 10mm. © CSIRO
Cotyledon stage, epigeal germination. © CSIRO
10th leaf stage. © CSIRO

Linnaeus, C. von (1753) Species Plantarum 2: 384. Type: Habitat in Syria.

Common name

Tulip Cedar; Cedar, White; Persian Lilac; Karabil; Chinaberry Tree; China Berry; White Cedar; Cape Lilac; Cedar, Tulip


Deciduous; leafless for a period between June and August. Dead bark layered.


Terminal buds and very young shoots clothed in small, brown, stellate hairs. Leaflet blades about 3-6 x 1-2.5 cm. Midrib raised on the upper surface.


Sepals clothed in stellate hairs. Petals about 6-10 x 2 mm, narrowly oblong. Stamens about 8-10, fused to form a purple tube. Disk continuous, but not enclosing the ovary. Ovary glabrous. Style glabrous.


Fruits obovoid or ellipsoid, about 15-20 x 10-15 mm. Seeds about 6-7 mm long, enclosed in a thick hard bony endocarp. Fruit ripening while the trees are leafless.


Cotyledons linear, about 9-10 mm long. First pair of leaves trifoliolate, leaflets lobed or toothed. At the tenth leaf stage: leaflet blades lobed or toothed, hairy on the upper surface at least on the midrib; petiole and rhachis hairy with simple tortuous hairs; terminal bud clothed in stellate hairs. Seed germination time 177 to 245 days.

Distribution and Ecology

Occurs in WA, NT, CYP, NEQ, CEQ and southwards as far as south-eastern New South Wales. Altitudinal range from sea level to 900 m. Grows in rain forest on a variety of sites. This species is favoured by disturbance and is a conspicuous component of regrowth particularly in some monsoon forests and drier, more seasonal rain forest. Also occurs in Asia, Malesia and the Solomon Islands.

Natural History & Notes

This species has caused death in domestic animals and in children. Fruits are most often implicated but the leaves also appear to be toxic. Everist (1974).

Fruit eaten by several species of birds. Cooper & Cooper (1994).

Widely cultivated in gardens and as a street tree. Flowers are a pale mauve followed by yellow fruits.

Stem bark material of this species was active against some tumors. Collins et al. (1990). Although poisonous, parts of the tree are used medicinally, especially in India where is occurs naturally in some areas and is widely cultivated. All parts of the plant, but particularly the inner bark, are used against intestinal worms; in large doses the drug has a narcotic effect on the patient. Cribb (1981).

Produces a useful, non-durable, general purpose timber.

Wood specific gravity 0.46. Cause et al. (1989).

Melia azedarach var. australasica DC., Monographiae Phanerogamarum 1 : 452(1878). Melia composita Willd., Species Plantarum ed. 4, 2 : 559(1799), Type: Behaarter Zedrach. W. Habitat in India orientali. .. (v.s.). Melia australasica A.Juss., Memoires du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris 19: 257(1830), Type: in Novae-Hollandiae (v.s.s. in Herb. mus. ex portu Jackson et freto Dentrecasteux. Melia dubia Cav., Monadelphis Classis Dissertationes 7 : 364(1789), Type: Habitat in India Orientali, unde cum innumeris aliis plantis eam reportavit D. Sonnerat. Melia australis Sweet, Sweet's Hortus Britannicus : 85(1830).
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