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Melia azedarach (Family Meliaceae)

White Cedar, Tulip Cedar, Bead Tree, Persian Lilac, Wyndet, Mindi Kechil (Christmas Is.)


This species is native to Asia and is widely cultivated in the tropics. The variety australasica occurs in Papua New Guinea and eastern Australia. It extends from northern Queensland to southern New South Wales, usually within 100 km of the coast. In Australia the latitudinal range is 11-35o S and the altitudinal range from near sea level to 900 m. It has been introduced on Christmas Island (QLD, NSW; Christmas Island)


A fast-growing deciduous tree, 20-45 m in height and diameter up to 120 cm in moist situations but a smaller tree in drier conditions. Branchlets are brown with prominent leaf scars and reddish brown lenticels. Leaves are bipinnate, about 40 cm long with pairs of opposite, ovate leaflets, 2-7 cm long. The pale mauve to white, fragrant flowers are in loose clusters 10-15 cm long. Flowering is in September - October and the fruit matures March - June. The fruit is a yellow globular berry containing five seeds. There are about 3500 dry fruits and 4000-10000 viable seeds per kilogram. Scratching the seed coat promotes rapid germination.

Ecology/Way of Life:

It occurs mainly in warm to hot humid or sub-humid zones. Much of the distribution is frost-free but this species tolerates frosts to -7o C. mean annual rainfall is mainly 800-1200 mm but can reach 2000 mm in some areas. White cedar is commonly found along stream banks and in valleys in undulating, low-hilly country and coastal lowlands. Soils are mainly acidic red earths and shallow loams. It grows in or on the margins of rainforest. Common associates include Castanospermum australe, Grevillea robusta and Toona ciliata.

Preferred Image

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

It is widely grown as an ornamental, street tree and shade species in drier parts of Australia. The soft, relatively strong, easily worked, pinkish timber is used for cabinetwork and joinery. The leaves provide forage for stock but the fruits are poisonous. White cedar regenerates vigorously and has the potential to become a weed; it is a significant pest in parts of the United States. The flowers may cause discomfort to asthma sufferers, the fruits are poisonous and the wood dust can induce dermatitis.

Other Comments:

Melia azedarach var. australasica was named by the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus. The generic name comes from the Greek melia = manna ash, referring to similar appearance of the leaves to those of the manna ash tree, Fraxinus ornus; the species name comes from the Persian Azad-darakht = noble tree.

Further Reading:

Doran, J.C. and Turnbull, J.W. (eds.) 1997. Australian trees and shrubs; species for land rehabilitation and farm planting in the tropics. ACIAR Monograph no. 24. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Canberra. 384p.

Holliday. I. 1989. A field guide to Australian trees. Hamlyn, Port Melbourne. 320p.

Moncur. M.W. and Gunn, B.V. 1990. Seed development and germination response of Melia azedarach var. australasica. In: Turnbull, J.W. (ed.) Tropical tree seed research, 24-28. ACIAR Proceedings no 28. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Canberra.


Ornamental Timber Climatic zones Soils Vegetation types Fodder Poisonous plants Firewood Windbreak Medicinal use Salt-tolerance Germination


Text & map from Australian Trees and Shrubs, courtesy Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research; text edited by J. Turnbull; photo courtesy M. Moncur.

Sponsored by:

Mike Moncur/ACIAR

Images and Multi-media:  
Attached Image  
image/jpeg 47645 bytes Melia azedarach

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