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Commonly called Persian Lilac, White Cedar, Cape Lilac, Chinaberry, Syringa or Bead Tree, Melia azedarach (syn. M. australis, M. japonica, M. sempervivens), is a deciduous tree in the mahogany family Meliaceae, native to India, southern China and Australia. The genus Melia includes four other species, occurring from southeast Asia to northern Australia. They are all deciduous or semi-evergreen small trees.
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The adult tree has a rounded crown, and measures between 7 and 12 metres in height. The flowers are small and fragrant, with five pale purple or lilac petals, growing in clusters. The fruit is a drupe, marble-sized, light yellow at maturity, hanging on the tree all winter, and gradually becoming wrinkled and almost white.
Timber is of medium density, and ranges in colour from light brown to dark red. In appearance it is readily confused with the unrelated Tectona grandis (Burmese Teak). Melia azedarach in keeping with other members of the family Meliaceae has a timber of high quality, but is under-utilised. Seasoning is relatively simple in that planks dry without cracking or warping and are resistant to fungal infection.
The leaves are up to 50 cm long, alternate, long-petioled, 2 or 3 times compound (odd-pinnate); the leaflets are dark green above and lighter green below, with serrate margins. They have been used as a natural insecticide to keep with stored food, but must not be eaten as they are highly poisonous. A diluted infusion of leaves and trees has been used in the past to induce uterus relaxation.
The flowers are unattractive to bees and butterflies. The hard, 5-grooved seeds were widely used for making rosaries and other products requiring beads, before their replacement by modern plastics.
Fruits are poisonous to humans if eaten in quantity . The toxic principles are tetranortriterpene neurotoxins and unidentified resins, found mainly in the fruits. Some birds are able to eat the fruit, spreading the seeds in their droppings. The first symptoms of poisoning appear a few hours after ingestion. They may include loss of appetite, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, bloody faeces, stomach pain, pulmonary congestion, cardiac arrest, rigidity, lack of coordination and general weakness. Death may take place after about 24 hours.
The plant was introduced around 1830 as an ornamental in the United States (South Carolina and Georgia) and widely planted in southern states. Today it is considered an invasive species as far north as Virginia and Oklahoma. But nurseries continue to sell the trees, and seeds are also widely available. It has become naturalized to tropical and warm temperate regions of the Americas and is planted in similar climates around the world. Besides the problem of toxicity, its usefulness as a shade tree in urban areas is diminished by its tendency to sprout where unwanted and to turn sidewalks into dangerously slippery surfaces when the fruits fall.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Melia_azedarach". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|