Melia azedarach (Melia)

Scientific name

Melia azedarachL.


M. azedarach var. japonica (G. Don) Makino; M. azedarach var. sempervirens L.; M. candollei A. Juss.; M. floribunda Carriere

Common names

Persian lilac, Chinaberry, bead tree, syringa, white cedar, mwarubaini (Kiswahili), lira (Luganda), Dwele (Luo)




Native to China, Japan, the Indian sub-continent, south-eastern Asia and large parts of northern and eastern Australia.

Naturalised distribution (global)

Locations within which Melia azedarach is naturalised include parts of central and southern Australia, southern Europe, southern and eastern Africa, southern USA, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, tropical southern America and many Pacific islands.

Introduced, naturalised or invasive in East Africa

Melia azedarach is invasive in parts of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda (CABI Crop Compendium 2007) where it is found in lowland tropical forest.


Melia azedarach tolerates a broad range of climactic and soil conditions. Young trees are vulnerable to but older trees resist frosts. Older trees can tolerate can tolerate mean maximum temperature of the hottest month of 39°C and mean minimum temperature of the coldest month of -5°C. This species is drought hardly.


Melia azedarach is a small to medium, deciduous tree from 6 to 35 metres in height. The bark is brown with narrow furrows which give a striped appearance. The leaves are twice-compound (bipinnate) with oval to elliptical-shaped leaflets from 20 to 70 mm long and are dark green in colour.

The pink to lilac flowers are star-shaped, about 18 mm in diameter and have a chocolate scent. They occur in conspicuous clusters from the leaf axils. The flowers are followed by yellow clusters of fruit which are poisonous if eaten by humans and animals although many birds seem partial to them and are not affected.

M. azedarach is monoecious (separate male and female flowers, but on the same plant). It produces very large numbers of bird-dispersed seed. The seeds maintain their viability for up to two years. M. azedarach regenerates rapidly from seed and by suckering.

Similar species

From the CABI Invasive Species Compendium: 'Melia azedarach is often confused with the neem tree (Azadirachta indica, to which it is related. A. indica is, however, easily distinguished by the absence of stellate leaf hairs, pinnate leaves (not bipinnate as in M. azedarach), 3-lobed stigmas (not 5-lobed) and 1- to 2-seeded drupes (not up to 5-seeded).'

Economic and other uses

The timber which resembles mahogany, is used to manufacture agricultural implements, furniture, plywood, boxes, poles, tool handles; it is used in cabinet making and in construction because of its resistance to termites. Aqueous and alcoholic extracts of leaves and seed reportedly control many insect, mite and nematode pests. However, because they contain toxic components, care is needed in their use. Melia azedarach is well known for its medicinal uses. Fruit stones make ideal beads and are used in making necklaces and rosaries (Katende et al. 1995). However, these uses cannot compensate for this plant's overall negative impacts.

Environmental and other impacts

Melia azedarach can forms dense stands restricting the regeneration of native species. Its leaf litter may alter soil chemistry increasing pH. Its flowers are a respiratory irritant and its leaves, bark flowers and sometimes fruit are poisonous.

M. azedarach has been included in the Global Invasive Species Database (GISD 2006). It has been listed as a Category 3 invader in South Africa (no further planting is allowed - except with special permission - nor is trade in propagative material. Existing plants must be prevented from spreading).


The precise management measures adopted for any plant invasion will depend upon factors such as the terrain, the cost and availability of labour, the severity of the infestation and the presence of other invasive species. Some components of an integrated management approach are introduced below.

The best form of invasive species management is prevention. If prevention is no longer possible, it is best to treat the weed infestations when they are small to prevent them from establishing (early detection and rapid response). Controlling the weed before it seeds will reduce future problems. Control is generally best applied to the least infested areas before dense infestations are tackled. Consistent follow-up work is required for sustainable management.

Seedlings can be removed by hand but this is difficult for larger plants as Melia azedarach reproduces vegetatively from both root and stem suckers. Mature trees can be used controlled through the application of a suitable herbicide either as an application to cut stumps or as a basal bark treatment (herbicide painted onto the bark). When using any herbicide always read the label first and follow all instructions and safety requirements. If in doubt consult an expert.

Biological control methods are being investigated in South Africa.


Not listed as a noxious weed by the state or governments in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.


CABI Invasive Species Compendium online data sheet. Melia azedarach (Chinaberry). CABI Publishing 2011. Accessed March 2011.

Haysom, K.A. and Murphy, S.T. (2003).The status of invasiveness of forest tree species outside their natural habitat: a global review and discussion paper. Forest Health and Biosecurity Working Paper FBS/3E. Forestry Department. FAO, Rome (unpublished).

GISD (2006). Global Invasive Species Database online data sheet. Melia azedarach (tree, shrub). Accessed March 2011.

ICRAF (1992). A selection of useful trees and shrubs for Kenya: Notes on their identification, propagation and management for use by farming and pastoral communities. ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya.

Katende, A.B., Birnie, A. and Tegnas, B. (1995). Useful trees and shrubs for Uganda. Identification, Propagation and Management for Agricultural and Pastoral Communities. Regional Soil Conservation Unit (RSCU), Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA).


Agnes Lusweti, National Museums of Kenya; Emily Wabuyele, National Museums of Kenya, Paul Ssegawa, Makerere University; John Mauremootoo, BioNET-INTERNATIONAL Secretariat - UK.


This fact sheet is adapted from The Environmental Weeds of Australia by Sheldon Navie and Steve Adkins, Centre for Biological Information Technology, University of Queensland. We recognise the support from the National Museums of Kenya, Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI) - Tanzania and Makerere University, Uganda. This activity was undertaken as part of the BioNET-EAFRINET UVIMA Project (Taxonomy for Development in East Africa).


BioNET-EAFRINET Regional Coordinator: [email protected]