Melia azedarach

Botanic description
Melia azedarach is a deciduous tree up to 45 m tall; bole fluted below when old, up to 30-60 (max. 120) cm in diameter, with a spreading crown and sparsely branched limbs. Bark smooth, greenish-brown when young, turning grey and fissured with age. Leaves alternate, 20-40 cm long, bipinnate or occasionally tripinnate. Leaflets 3-11, serrate and with a pungent odour when crushed. Inflorescence a long, axillary panicle up to 20 cm long; flowers showy, fragrant, numerous on slender stalks, white to lilac; sepals 5-lobed, 1 cm long; petals 5-lobed, 0.9 cm long, pubescent; staminal tube deep purple blue, 0.5 cm long, 1 cm across. Fruit a small, yellow drupe, nearly round, about 15 mm in diameter, smooth and becoming a little shrivelled, slightly fleshy. Seed oblongoid, 3.5 mm x 1.6 mm, smooth, brown and surrounded by pulp. Because of the divided leaves, the generic name is derived from the Greek ‘melia’ (the ash); the specific name comes from the Persian ‘azzadirackt’ (noble tree).

History of cultivation
This tree, well known as Persian lilac, is native to India but is now grown in all the warmer parts of the world; in many of these places it is naturalized. It is widely planted in Nigeria, for example.
Natural Habitat
A tree of the subtropical climatic zone, the natural habitat of M. azedarach is seasonal forest, including bamboo thickets, Tamarindus woodland. It is highly adaptable and tolerates a wide range of conditions; for example, the most frost-tolerant cultivars can be planted outdoors in sheltered areas in the British Isles.

Melia azedarach here as a multi-stemmed specimen

It is the quickest growing tree I have ever seen.  This was planted as a small seedling plant given to me by a friend, each stem was no thicker than my thumb and about 70 cm tall in 2007.  There is another on the other side of the garden in the left hand border.

Very delicate flowers

The bark is really beautiful at least on young trees like mine.

19th November 2011, the berries on the tree (left hand border)

The butter-yellow autumn foliage and yellow berries against a cloudless sky 14th November 2011

8 thoughts on “Melia azedarach

    • When I planted it I thought “I’m being really stupid, I’ll never see it as a tree – just buy one” and now I am so pleased to see how it grows, it is the most beautiful tree in my garden, I think.

  1. Hi Linda,
    Could you please contact me by email. I am having some difficulty getting the right variety of white cedar. Do both your white cedars have the same leaf margin? I’ve come across both tooth and smooth leaf margins on different varieties. If you have an example of both types I’d love to see more photos of those trees. It would help a lot with my selection.

    • I meant Christina* I probably wasn’t wearing my glasses when I sent that message. My apologies! I think the ”multi stem” cedar you have growing is Melia azedarach var. australasica – it seems to be a more leggy variety. Again if you’re able to clarify any difference between your 2 cedars I’d find that information very interesting. Whatever their variety or cultivar both trees look beautiful in your garden.

      • Hi Amelia, I thought you had written a reply to a ‘Linda’ who had commented so I didn’t look back any further, sorry. My Melia azedarach were given to me by friends as seedlings from their own tree; it is unlikely to be ‘australasica’ but I could be wrong. All I know is that it grows amazingly quickly, mine were smaller than whips when I planted them and are now, 7 years later, proper trees. I didn’t know the common name was White Cedar, they don’t seem like the cedar family at all to me. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful with your search. I don’t know where you live but in some parts of the US the tree is considered invasive and this year I have found a lot of seedling trees around the garden especially under the lavender hedge that has now been removed.

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