White Cedar whose scientific name is Melia azedarach L. is also commonly known as Persian Lilac, Chinaberry and Umbrella tree. Other synonymous scientific names include Melia japonica, Melia australis and Melia sempervivens.
White Cedar is native to Australia and South East Asia. It is distributed mainly in the northern part of Australia mainly in Queensland and eastern New South Wales. It is also found in the Kimberleys.
White Cedar belongs to the mahogany family Meliaceae. It is a deciduous, shade tree with a rounded crown. The tree can reach height of 12m at maturity and having a width of 6-8m (sometimes up to 30m in its natural environment). The plant has an average lifespan around 20 years.
The flowers are small with pale purple and white petals of five. The flowers are often found growing in clusters. The stamens are clustered into a cylindrical dark purple tube 6-8mm long. The fruit of the White Cedar is round (1.5cm in diameter), fleshy and yellow in colour when mature. Fruits are poisonous to humans and some other mammals but birds are able to eat the fruits and thus disperse the seed through their droppings. Some reports suggest that 6-8 fruits can be fatal to humans.
White Cedar is often planted as a shade tree because of its dense leave covering. It is planted in parks, public gardens, stream banks and along side walks or road side (Batcher 2008). The fragrant lilac flowers and yellow fruits of the White Cedar make it an appealing ornamental tree. The hard seeds of the plant can also be used in art and crafts to make beads for rosaries.
The plant prefers open sun and can do well in partial shade too. It is hardy to most frosts and can withstand extended dry period. It can also adapt to a wide range of soil conditions.
White Cedar flowers during autumn and fruits are produced thereafter, usually from March to August.
Proper pruning and pollarding is necessary to produce well-formed trunk and branch structure. Pruning can be done to open up the crown and encourage development of well-spaced limbs (Gilman and Watson 2008). The plant does not require constant watering. Pests such as cape lilac tree caterpillars, Leptoceneria reducta, can severely defoliate the tree and cause damage.
White Cedar can be propagated easily through seeds or root cuttings. The plant reached maturity in 6-10 years time and can develop seeds that are viable. The seeds of the plant can be viable for number of years. No pre-sowing treatment is required if propagated through seeds.
CAUTION: THE WHITE CEDAR IS A PROLIFIC SEED PRODUCER AND CAN BE A WEED !
Although the White Cedar is a native Australian plant, care should be taken in its cultivation and propagation. White Cedar has weedy properties. It is considered as a weed in southeastern USA, parts of the Pacific and New Zealand. While it is native to NSW and QLD coast, it is naturalised outside of its range in all mainland states, and is especially invasive in Northern
Text by Toh Ming Sheng (2008 Student Botanical Intern)
Name Meaning: Melia azedarach
Melia - Greek name for the Ash Tree in allusion to the similarity of the leaves. The name came originally from meli = honey, as several species of Ash have sweet sap.
azedarach - the name given by the Persian physician Avecinnia (980-1037) to a poisonous tree.
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