Melia azedarach and Melia azedarach ‘Elite’

Family: Meliaceae

Common Name: Chinaberry, White Cedar

Melia azedarach is a common street tree in Melbourne, where many unfortunately exhibit a very poor growth habit. These poor characteristics, where they occur, are attributed to the nature of the planting stock, and reflect ineptitude in the nursery rather than a poor plant selection. M. azedarach is an oddity in that it is indigenous to Asia southwards to central NSW; it is also odd in that it is one of the very few Australian native plants that is winter deciduous.

In streetscapes, M. azedarach forms a squat, broad tree usually to about 10m. Its ‘umbrageous’, or umbrella-like canopy branches very low on poorly – trained trees. The lilac flowers appear in late spring, and are followed by yellow fruits that hold through the winter. The foliage is lush, pinnate and vivid green throughout summer; in autumn, the foliage turns a rich yellow. M. azedarach will tolerate most soil conditions, but grows best if irrigated monthly over hot summers. It tolerates pollarding, and responds extremely well to formative pruning.

It is easy to produce high-quality M. azedarach in the nursery if formative pruning is carried out regularly. These trees need to have at least 1.4 to 1.8m of clear trunk before branching. Well-produced trees will not have significant canopy development if sold at under 2.5 to 3m height. Purchase trees with clear straight trunks rather than those with heavy canopies; the clear-trunked individuals will become better street trees.

Melia azedarach ‘Elite’ (Non- Fruiting) Many streetscape managers consider the fruit set by Melia to be a significant problem, both as a trip hazard and because of the reported poisonous nature of its fruit. In Melbourne, Melia azedarach has weediness potential along waterways, with seedling germination along the Merri Creek catchment as one example. This non-fruiting selection was discovered in a local Melbourne streetscape. From our observations this tree has neither flowered nor fruited over the past fifteen years. The flower froms to a bud without developing petals, resulting in no pollen and ultimately no fruit. The tree has a similar umbrageous habit to other Melia azedarach and will grow to 10m height and 8-10m spread. An excellent plant.

Typical mature height: most often up to 10m

Useful in: streetscapes, roundabouts 

Sites for best growth: all, occasional summer water is best