Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chinaberry

This image is from a Texas A&M site about toxic plants

On a nature walk on Friday, one of the participants asked me if I'd seen a yellow-fruited tree along a nearby road. It sounded a bit mysterious, since there aren't so many trees with yellowish berries or yellow fruits of any sort around here.

I had an opportunity to go by this afternoon and discovered that they are Chinaberry (Melia azedarach) trees. There were 4 or 5 of them, all about the same size, so probably planted at the same time.

They're striking now; the leaves have dropped, revealing branches loaded with berries.

A fast-growing tree, it was often grown as a shade tree near houses, and was used as a street tree in the middle and lower Southern U.S., according to Gardens and Historic Plants of the Antebellum South. Introduced in the late 1700's, it remained popular (and revered) as a shade tree through the antebellum era, described as the 'Pride of China' or the 'Pride of the South.' Trees have persisted in old homesites, and have often spread to nearby disturbed areas; the species is now on a number of invasive species lists. It's probably just cold enough here for younger seedlings and saplings to succumb to freezes, so it's not common in this part of the Piedmont.

The berries are toxic for mammals (including humans), and leaves and roots are allelopathic. Birds spread the seeds through ingestion of the fruits and can be harmed if seeds are consumed.

But, Chinaberry is definitely a memory tree -- I ran across a book called 'Under the Chinaberry Tree' in my Google research, and I remember vividly the Chinaberry tree near our first house in Austin, Texas, when I was about nine years old.

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