Melia azedarach (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Melia azedarach L.

Protologue: Sp. pl.: 384 (1753).
Family: Meliaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 28


  • Melia sempervirens (L.) Sw. (1788),
  • M. dubia Cavanilles (1789),
  • M. composita Willd. (1799)

Vernacular names

  • Chinaberry, Persian lilac, pride of India (En)
  • Indonesia: gringging, mindi (Java), marambung (Sumatra)
  • Malaysia: mindi kecil
  • Philippines: paraiso, balagañgo (Tagalog), bagaluñga (Bisaya).
  • Singapore: mindi kechil
  • Cambodia: dâk' hiën, sdau khmaôch
  • Laos: h'ienx, kadau s'a:ngz
  • Thailand: lian, lian-baiyai (central), khian (northern)
  • Vietnam: cây xoan, xoan dâu, sầu dông.

Origin and geographic distribution

M. azedarach is a widely distributed tree, probably of South Asian origin, occurring widely in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions. It is found wild in the Himalayan foothills of India and Pakistan at altitudes of 700-1000 m, widely scattered in China, through Malesia to the Solomon Islands and northern and eastern Australia. It is naturalized in a wide belt in the cooler parts of eastern and southern Africa, in the Americas from Argentina to the southern United States and Hawaii, and throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean as far north as Croatia and southern France. The most frost-tolerant cultivars can be planted outdoors in sheltered areas in the British Isles.


In South-East Asia, M. azedarach is primarily used for fuelwood (e.g. in the Philippines) and is also planted as a shade tree in coffee and abaca (Musa textilis Née) plantations and as an avenue tree. It is a well-known ornamental grown for its scented flowers and shade. In South Asia, M. azedarach is better known for its medicinal uses. Its various parts have anthelmintic, antimalarial, cathartic, emetic, and emmenagogic properties, and are also used to treat skin diseases. The fruits are so highly valued for their medicinal properties in Malaysia that they are imported from Szechuan (China). However, some toxic components occur in the seed oil, the oral intake of which may cause severe reactions and even death. M. azedarach oil may be mistaken for neem seed oil, which is taken orally for medicinal purposes. Aqueous and alcoholic extracts of leaves and seed reportedly control many insect, mite, and nematode pests. However, because they contain toxic components, care is needed in their use.

M. azedarach wood (the "white cedar" of commerce) is also used to manufacture agricultural implements, carts, tool handles, and furniture, and in construction, because of its termite resistance.

Production and international trade

Currently, the use of M. azedarach products is almost entirely restricted to the informal sector.


M. azedarach contains numerous compounds with anti-feedant and growth-disrupting properties in insects. These compounds are related to those in neem (Azadirachta indica A.H.L. Jussieu), but recent information indicates that azadirachtin, the most important compound in neem, is absent in M. azedarach. The fruits of M. azedarach are highly toxic to warm-blooded animals; the consumption of 6-8 fruits can cause nausea, spasms and death in children. The proximate oral lethal dose for pigs of purified ethanolic extract of fruits was found to be 6.4 mg/kg live weight. Ruminants seem less sensitive and several species of birds eat the fruits. After eating too many fruits, however, these animals sometimes show mild intoxication and temporary paralysis. The leaves are generally much less toxic and in India are fed to goats. They were also used to rid goats and sheep of intestinal worms. The presence of toxic and non-toxic forms is reported from New South Wales. The flowers may cause discomfort to asthma patients and the wood dust sometimes induces dermatitis. The bark exudes a water-soluble gum.

Of the many compounds isolated from the fruit, the triterpenoid melianotriol, desacetylochinolide B, and several nimbolins and sendanins have shown very strong anti-feedant properties in insects. Insecticidal properties are found in the derivatives of vilasinine, meliacin and meliacarpin. The latter are azadirachtin analogues. Many of these compounds are similar to the insect hormones known as ecdysones, which control moulting and metamorphosis. Toosendanin, a triterpenoid related to sendanin has been isolated from the bark and has nematicidal properties. A glycopeptide in the leaves and roots inhibits in vitro replication of several RNA and DNA viruses.

The seed contains an oil high in linoleic acid (65-82%) and oleic acid.

The wood of M. azedarach resembles mahogany. It makes good construction timber, durable even in exposed locations and not affected by termites. Its density is 510-660 kg/m3, its energy value 24 000-25 000 kJ/kg.

The weight of 1000 seeds is 75-250 g.


  • Deciduous tree up to 45 m tall; bole fluted below when old, up to 60(-120) cm in diameter. Bark grey-brown, smooth, lenticellate, becoming lightly fissured or scaly with age; inner bark yellowish; sapwood whitish, heartwood rusty brown. Crown widely spreading, with sparsely branched limbs. Twigs upturned at end of drooping branchlets, smooth, brown, lenticellate, with raised cicatrices; leafy twigs with fulvous stellate hairs.
  • Leaves bipinnate, occasionally wholly or partly tripinnate, more or less opposite, (15-)23-80 cm long, glabrescent; petiole 8-30 cm long, terete, lenticellate, swollen at base; pinnae in 3-7 pairs, up to 25 cm long; petiolule 3-7 mm long; leaflets in 3-7 pairs, opposite or nearly so, ovate or oblong-lanceolate to elliptical, 2-10 cm × 0.6-3.8 cm, base slightly unequilateral, acute to rounded, apex acuminate, margin entire to variously serrate.
  • Inflorescence a thyrse, axillary or in axil of rudimentary leaves on short shoots, 10-22 cm long, primary branches 5-7.5 cm long, secondary branches up to 2 cm long, bearing fascicles of flowers; bracts 3-10 mm long, filiform, caducous, bracteoles similar but smaller; pedicel 2-3 mm long.
  • Flowers purplish, fragrant, bisexual or male, 5-merous; calyx tubular, about 2 mm in diameter, lobes about 2 mm long, exterior stellate and with simple hairs; petals free, narrowly oblong, 6-10 mm × 2 mm, white to lilac or bluish, outside minutely pubescent; staminal tube about 7 mm long, lilac turning deep purple, exterior glabrous, interior with dense simple hairs; anthers 10, sessile; pistil glabrous, stigma clavate, 5-lobed.
  • Fruit a drupe, ellipsoid-globose, 2-4 cm × 1-2 cm, yellow-brown when ripe, glabrous, up to 5-seeded.
  • Seed oblongoid, 3.5 mm × 1.6 mm, smooth, brown.

Growth and development

Under optimal conditions M. azedarach grows fast. In Uganda it has grown about 1.7 m in height annually for several years after planting. It is generally deciduous, but some forms in the humid tropics (e.g. in Malaysia and Tonga) are evergreen. It flowers from March to May in the northern hemisphere, though some forms flower throughout the summer and even throughout the year. Fruit drop is limited and ripe fruits cling to the branches for several months even when leaves have fallen. The tree resprouts after cutting and regrows after pollarding, making it suitable for pole production.

Other botanical information

M. azedarach is a variable, complex species, comprising many wild and cultivated forms formerly often recognized as separate forms, varieties or species. Besides the wild trees, two groups of cultivars are recognized: Chinese and Indian. The wild tree is taller (up to 45 m), its leaflets are entire, its flowers are sweetly scented to malodorous, the petals white or pale mauve and the fruits up to 4 cm long. It is sometimes grown for wood (e.g. in the Philippines). The Chinese cultivars are smaller, with entire leaflets, fragrant, mauve, pink or blue flowers and larger fruits than the Indian cultivars. In South-East Asia, trees of Chinese cultivars are rare. The Indian cultivars are more common in South-East Asia; they are smaller trees, with irregularly serrate leaflets and sweet, fragrant, pink or blue flowers. Well-known cultivars in the Indian group are "Floribunda", a precocious form, flowering when only a few m tall and used as bedding plants, and "Umbraculifera", a mutant found in Texas with a flattened crown. M. azedarach L. var. australasica (Juss.) DC. which occurs naturally in eastern Australia and is planted in the Philippines, grows into a large tree, to 45 m tall and 1.2 m in diameter under humid conditions.

M. azedarach is often confused with the neem tree (Azadirachta indica). Neem can easily be distinguished: it never has stellate hairs, it has pinnate leaves (not bipinnate), 3-lobed stigmas (not 5-lobed), and 1(-2)-seeded drupes (not up to 5-seeded).


The natural habitat of M. azedarach is seasonal forest, including bamboo thickets, Tamarindus woodland and Eucalyptus savanna. Its natural occurrence from the Himalayan foothills of Baluchistan (Pakistan) and Kashmir (India) to the lowland of Papua New Guinea indicates that it is highly adaptable and tolerates a wide range of conditions. The mean maximum temperature of the hottest month may reach 39 °C, the mean minimum temperature of the coldest month -5 °C, although many forms tolerate a narrower range only. In eastern coastal Australia M. azedarach occurs where the mean maximum temperature of the hottest month is 26-32 °C and the mean minimum temperature of the coldest month 3-10 °C. Young trees are sensitive to frost, but old ones tolerate up to -15 °C. It is generally found from 0-1200 m altitude, in the Himalayas up to 1800(-2200) m. Annual rainfall in its natural habitat ranges from 600-2000 mm. In Africa it is planted as a drought-tolerant shade tree and ornamental. M. azedarach is widely distributed in the drier parts of the southern and south-western United States, while in humid Florida it is self-sowing and considered a weed. Where annual rainfall is less than 600 mm, as in parts of the Middle East, it performs well on wet soils along rivers and under irrigation. M. azedarach tolerates seasonal waterlogging and is even reported from permanently waterlogged sites. Strong winds may break off limbs.

Although optimal growth is obtained on well-drained, deep, sandy loams, M. azedarach tolerates shallow soils, saline and strongly alkaline soils, but not very acid soils. Reports on its tolerance of heavy clays are contradictory. It is found on poor, marginal, sloping, and stony land, even in crevices in sheer rock.


Although successful vegetative propagation through stem cuttings, root suckers and air layering has been reported, propagation is usually by seed. Drupes need to be macerated until the seed can be gently eased out. Seeds are soaked in water for 1-2 days, depulped, and dried in the shade. They can be stored in a cool and well-ventilated place, in cloth or gunny bags. Plastic and other airtight containers should not be used for seed storage. Seed should be planted within two weeks after harvesting, as viability drops rapidly thereafter. Sowing is mostly done in a nursery at 15 cm × 2.5 cm in a sunny place, keeping the seed lightly covered with soil or mulch. Seedlings may be thinned to 15 cm × 15 cm when 2 months old, and transplanted when 7-10 cm tall.


A few weedings are required during the first 2 years after planting. When grown for timber, stems are pruned to a height of about 6 m to obtain a branch-free bole. In Paraguay, M. azedarach grown in small woodlots for timber, is often interplanted with a variety of food crops. It is planted at a spacing of 4 m × 3 m, thinned after 3 years to 400 trees/ha and after 6 years to 200 trees/ha.

Diseases and pests

Although some bacterial and fungal diseases have been observed on leaves, twigs, and fruits, no serious damage has been reported. Generally, M. azedarach is also little affected by pests.


Pollarding of M. azedarach for fuelwood and poles is usually done on 5-10-year-old trees.


In Thailand, timber yields of 10-year-old stands of M. azedarach are estimated to be about 85 t/ha. In Paraguay, 12-15 years after planting, woodlots yield about 100 m3posts and small-sized wood and 175 m3logs. Under natural conditions, M. azedarach fruit yield is higher than neem's, but there are no data on this.

Handling after harvest

Fruits should be depulped immediately after collection, and the seed dried in the shade and stored in a well-ventilated, cool place.

Genetic resources and breeding

No substantial germplasm collections of M. azedarach are known to exist. Neither are any breeding programmes known. Breeding work may lead to e.g. improved burning quality, drought tolerance, and higher fruit and oil yields.


Its quick growth and small dimensions make M. azedarach a good choice for fuelwood production for household needs. Its ability to grow under suboptimal conditions makes M. azedarach suitable for reforestation and reclamation of marginal land in semi-arid areas in tropical highland and temperate regions. M. azedarach may provide excellent prospects for exploitation as a natural pesticide.


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  • Ram, H.Y.M. & Nair, M.N.B., 1993. Botany. In: Randhawa, N.S. & Parmar, B.S. (Editors): Neem research and development. Indian Society of Pesticides Science, New Delhi, India. pp. 6-26.


  • S. Ahmed & Salma Idris