White Cedar has the scientific name Melia azedarach L. and 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. Its natural distribution is from around Cooktown in north Queensland through to the south coast of New South Wales but it has also become naturalised in other areas of Australia, including the Kimberley region of Western Australia and southern parts of South Australia.
White Cedar belongs to the mahogany family Meliaceae. It is a deciduous shade tree with a rounded crown. The tree can reach 12 metres high at maturity (sometimes up to 30 metres in favourable natural environments) and a width of 6–8 metres. The plant has an average lifespan around 20 years.
The flowers are small with five pale purple and white petals. The flowers are often found growing in clusters. The stamens are clustered into a cylindrical dark purple tube 6–8 mm long. The fruit of White Cedar is round (1.5cm in diameter), fleshy, and yellow 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 ingesting 6–8 fruits can be fatal to humans.
White Cedar is often planted as a shade tree because of its dense canopy. It is planted in parks, public gardens, stream banks and along footpaths or roadsides (Batcher 2008). The fragrant lilac flowers and yellow fruits of White Cedar make it an appealing ornamental tree. The hard seeds of the plant can also be used in art and crafts, including making 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 periods. 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 a 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, Leptocneria reducta, can severely defoliate the tree and cause damage.
White Cedar can be propagated easily through seeds or root cuttings. The plant reaches maturity in 6–10 years and can develop viable seeds. The seeds of the plant can remain viable for number of years. No pre-sowing treatment is required for propagation from seed.
CAUTION:WHITE CEDAR IS A PROLIFIC SEED PRODUCER AND CAN BE A WEED!
Although White Cedar is a native Australian plant, care should be taken in its cultivation and propagation as it has weedy properties. It is considered as a weed in the southeastern United States of America, parts of the Pacific, and in New Zealand. While it is native in large parts of northern and eastern Australia, the species has also become naturalised outside of its range in many states, and is especially invasive in the Northern
Text by Toh Ming Sheng (2008 Student Botanical Intern); since updated online
Name Meaning: Melia azedarach
Melia - Greek name for the Ash tree (Fraxinus sp.), 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 Avicenna (980–1037) to a poisonous tree.
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