Chinaberry Tree Information: Can You Grow Chinaberry Trees


Native to Pakistan, India, Southeast Asia and Australia, chinaberry tree information tells us it was introduced as an ornamental specimen to the United Sates in 1930 and, for a period of time, became the darling of landscapers in the southern United States. Today the chinaberry tree is considered something of a pest due to its reseeding propensity and easy naturalization.

What is Chinaberry?

Chinaberry is a member of the Mahogany family (Meliaceae) and is also known as “China Tree” and “Pride of India.” So, what is chinaberry tree?

Growing chinaberry trees (Melia azedarach) have a dense spreading habitat attaining heights of between 30 to 50 feet tall (9-15 m.) and hardy in USDA zones 7-11. Growing chinaberry trees are prized as shade trees in their native habitat and bear pale purple tube-like blooms with a heavenly scent much like southern magnolia trees. They are found in fields, prairies, along roadsides and at the edge of wooded areas.

The resulting fruit, marble sized drupes, are light yellow gradually becoming wrinkled and white over the course of the winter months. These berries are toxic to humans when eaten in quantity but the juicy pulp is enjoyed by many bird varieties, often resulting in rather “drunken” behavior.

Additional Chinaberry Tree Information

The leaves of the growing chinaberry tree are large, about 1 ½ feet long (46 cm.), lance-shaped, slightly serrated, dark green atop and paler green below. These leaves smell nowhere near as enchanting as the flower; in fact, when crushed they have a particularly obnoxious odor.

Chinaberry trees are resilient specimens and can be quite messy from the dropping berries and leaves. They spread easily, if allowed, and, as such, are classified as an invasive tree in the southeastern United States. This prolific mahogany member grows rapidly but has a short life span.

Chinaberry Uses

As mentioned above, the chinaberry is a valuable shade tree in its endemic regions due to its large, spreading canopy. Chinaberry uses in the southeastern regions of the United States have been used for just this attribute and were commonly added to the home landscape prior to the 1980’s. The most commonly planted variety is the Texas umbrella tree with a slightly longer life span than other chinaberries and a lovely, distinct rounded shape.

Chinaberry fruit can be dried, dyed and then strung into necklaces and bracelets as beads. At one time, the seeds of the drupes were used as a narcotic; refer to the toxicity of the fruit and the tipsy, gorging birds.

Today, the chinaberry is still sold in nurseries but is less likely to be utilized in landscapes. Not only is it a threat to the natural ecosystem by its encroaching habit, but its messy and, more importantly, shallow root systems tend to clog drains and damage septic systems. Growing chinaberry trees also have weak limbs too, which break easily during severe weather, creating yet another mess.

Chinaberry Plant Care

If, after reading all the above information, you decide you just must have a specimen of the chinaberry in your garden, purchase a disease free certified plant at the nursery.

Chinaberry plant care is not complex once the tree is established. Plant the tree in full sun in most any soil type within the USDA zones 7-11.

The tree should be watered regularly, although it will tolerate some drought and needs no irrigation through the winter months.

Prune your chinaberry tree to remove root and shoot suckers and maintain the umbrella-like canopy.


What is a chinaberry tree good for?

The heartwood is generally considered at least moderately durable, and somewhat resistant to insect attack. Workability: Due to it's moderate density and generally straight grain, Chinaberry is quite easy to work: it cuts, planes, sands, and glues well.

Subsequently, question is, what does a chinaberry tree symbolize? The Chinaberry tree is believed to be symbolic of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. It is also believed to symbolize hope and strength in some cultures.

Correspondingly, are chinaberry trees poisonous to humans?

All parts of the plant, especially the fruit are poisonous to humans, some livestock, and mammals, including cats and dogs. Symptoms post-consumption include vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulty or paralysis. Cattle and some birds can eat the berries without harm.

How do you kill a chinaberry tree?

Left untended, a single Chinaberry can quickly grow into a thicket that chokes the life from surrounding native vegetation. The trunk of the Chinaberry is thin and soft, so felling the tree and applying an glyphosate-based herbicide to the remaining stump is the most effective means of removal.


Chinaberry tree is pretty, but might not be the best choice in your yard

A chinaberry. (Courtesy Harvey Cotten)

Dear Harvey

: This unusual tree is growing in the fence line just west of Slaughter Road in Madison. It was blooming and still has the ornaments from last year (berry clusters). The leaves are compound, and the florets are similar to lilac with a nice fragrance. It seems like it would make a replacement for our Wisconsin lilacs down here. Can you tell me what it is? Thank you. – Harriet F.

Dear Harriet:

Welcome to Alabama and as you have already noticed many of the favorite plants that grew in Wisconsin (i.e., the lilac) may have a hard time growing in the hot, humid South with our red clay soils. I hope the transition to the Tennessee Valley has been a positive one for you and your family. With time you will come to appreciate a whole other group of plants that grow beautifully here and give you the same attributes that your old favorites provided.

As to the tree in question, you have noticed the ubiquitous chinaberry (Melia azadarach ME-li-a a-ZED-a-rak), a native of India, Pakistan and western China that made its way to the United States back in the early 1800s. The tree was introduced through the ports of Charleston and Savannah and was widely popular in the Antebellum South due to its very fast growth and highly fragrant flowers that were very showy in their varying shades of purple and blue. Many Southern towns planted this tree as a street tree in an effort to beautify the cityscape. You have to remember that at this time in our country's development all things that were new and exotic (meaning "not from around here") were highly prized. You could say that mimosa, chinaberry, princess tree and tree of heaven all fit into this category of being wildly popular once.

The purple flowers are the most distinctive feature of the tree. The flowers are fragrant, lilac-purple growing from 8 to 16 inches long in panicles in May. Often the flowers are not very noticeable because the leaves start growing so quickly and literally cover up the flower panicle as it opens. The leaves are compound in nature, up to 2 and a half feet long with serrated, pointed leaflets. Fall color is insignificant and trees will grow 30 to 40 feet tall.

One reason the trees were so popular is that they are very tough – drought tolerant, no pest or disease issues and very fast growing. These are all great attributes but when you couple that with a very prolific fruit production then the potential for uncontrolled growth arises. Sadly, birds love the abundant berry clusters and spread the seeds everywhere – these droppings then germinate and new trees crop up in many places that were not intended.

For this reason chinaberry has moved from being just an “exotic” tree to one that is highly invasive. In Louisiana it is one of the “Dirty Dozen,” in Virginia it is the top five worst trees and Texas has chinaberry on its “worst offenders” list. While it did not make the Top 10 list in Alabama, it has been added as the list has grown to include more problem plants.

Because of this tendency to become invasive I could not recommend using chinaberry in the landscape. Your comment about it replacing the lilac is a prescient one since one of the other common names chinaberry has is Persian lilac. A better choice for you would be the crape myrtle – a tree often called the “Lilac of the South.” Another option would be to choose one of the new heat-tolerant hybrid lilacs like “Betsy Ross” or “Declaration.” I hope this helps I imagine that you will start spotting chinaberry trees growing everywhere around the Tennessee Valley now that you know what they are.


What are chinaberry trees used for?

All parts of the plant, especially the fruit are poisonous to humans, some livestock, and mammals, including cats and dogs. Symptoms post-consumption include vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulty or paralysis. Cattle and some birds can eat the berries without harm.

Secondly, what does a chinaberry tree look like? Chinaberry is a deciduous tree in the Meliaceae, or Mahogany Family with purplish, reddish bark. It is able to grow to 50 feet in height, although trees less than 30 feet in height are more common. Leaves are alternate and 2 to 3 times compound (8 to 18 inches). Leaflets have serrated edges and are 1 to 3 inches long.

Similarly one may ask, is chinaberry wood good for anything?

The heartwood is generally considered at least moderately durable, and somewhat resistant to insect attack. Workability: Due to it's moderate density and generally straight grain, Chinaberry is quite easy to work: it cuts, planes, sands, and glues well.

What does a chinaberry tree symbolize?

The Chinaberry tree is believed to be symbolic of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. It is also believed to symbolize hope and strength in some cultures.


It was brought to the United States as an ornamental tree either in the late 1700s or the mid-1800s. It then became a popular ornamental shade tree in southern states for over 200 years. It was introduced into Hawaii in 1840. Regrettably, it is still sold in nurseries.

U.S. Habitat: Most invasive in riparian zones or disturbed sites. Also, is often present around rural home sites.

List of all Texas observations by Citizen Scientists here

U.S. Present: AL, AR, AZ, CA, FL, GA, HI, KY, LA, MO, MS, NC, NM, NY, PA, PR, SC, TN, TX, UT, VA


There is a spot of what looks like shredded bark on our Chinaberry tree. Is this something I should be concerned about, and what could it be?

I wouldn't worry too much if the shredded place is less than 1/4th the circumference of the tree trunk and 8-10'' long. This article tells you how to fix damaged bark: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/trees/tgen/repairing-tree-bark-damage.htm

I imagine you have a critter doing the damage.

Most Popular Topics

  • Plant Recommendations
  • Hibiscus Plants
  • Roses
  • Tomato Plants
  • Fig Tree
  • Gardenia Plants
  • Crape Myrtle Trees
  • Peach Trees
  • Lemon Trees
  • Hydrangea Plants
  • Open2
  • Sago Palm Trees
  • Insect Pest Control
  • Wisteria Vines
  • Holly Bushes
  • Calla Lily Plants
  • Yucca Plants
  • Zucchini Plants
  • Lilac Bushes
  • Lawn Problems


Since this tree has the ability to send roots from underground storage organs it is very hard to control this tree by mechanical means. Thankfully, this tree is able to be effectively controlled by any readily available herbicides. The herbicides can be applied to the base of the truck or on the stump after the tree has been cut. Foliar treatment is not ideal ore recommended because high volumes of solution are required.

Hare, W. R., Schutzman, H., Lee, B. R., & Knight, M. W. 1997. Chinaberry poisoning in two dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 210(11), 1638.

Mabberley, David J. 1984. A Monograph of Melia in Asia and the Pacific: The history of White Cedar and Persian Lilac. The Gardens' Bulletin Singapore 37(1):49–64.

Matter, M. M., Gesraha, M. A., Ahmed, A. A. I., & Farag, N. A. 2002. Impact of neem and chinaberry fruit extracts on the pest/parasitoid (Pieris rapae/Hyposoter ebeninus) interactions. Anzeiger für Schädlingskunde, 75(1):13-18.


Watch the video: Size Controlling China Berry Trees Part 1 of 10


Previous Article

Plum Oak Root Fungus – Treating A Plum Tree With Armillaria Rot

Next Article

Basic principles of preserving vegetables in the cellar