White Cedar

Melia azedarach L. var. australasica (A.Juss.) C.DC.

Synonyms -

Family: - Meliaceae


Other Names:

Cape Lilac

Chinaberry Tree

Lilac Tree

Texas Umbrella


A deciduous tree with furrowed grey bark up to 15 m tall with bipinnate, dark green leaves with a musky odour. The leaflets are oval and 2-7.5 cm long by 1-3 cm wide. It has large, fragrant and attractive blue to lilac flowers that form sticky, yellow, hard-centred fruits about 1.5 cm round in clusters 10-20 cm long.




First leaves:


Alternate. 120-750 mm long overall. Compound, twice pinnate with 3-5 pairs of branchlets each carrying 2-4 pairs of leaflets plus a terminal leaflet. The total number of leaflets on each leaf is usually 25-75)

Stipules -

Petiole - main one 50-150 mm long. Side petioles 1-8 mm long

Blade - Of leaflets, oval to egg shaped, 20-75 mm long by 10-30 mm wide. Tip pointed. Base usually asymmetric. Edges toothed to entire. Surface smooth or with scattered star type hairs. No oil glands.

Stem leaves -


Up to 20 m tall. Many branched.

Bark - Grey, furrowed. New growth is covered with star type and simple hairs.

Flower stem -

Flower head:

100-200 mm long, loose, branched clusters (panicles) of flowers arising from leaf axils. Slightly shorter than the leaves.


Fragrant, blue to purple, radially symmetrical flowers with 5 petals. Bisexual or male on the same plant.

Ovary - Superior, 5 cells, each with 2 ovules

Calyx - 5 deep lobes.

Petals - 5, blue to purple, 8-12 mm long, fused at the base and often slightly downy.

Stamens - 8-10. United into a purple,10 ribbed tube shortly 10 lobed, ending in 2-4 lobed appendages.

Anthers - Inserted on the inside of the tube. 2 celled, releasing pollen by lengthwise slits.


Green turning yellow, oval drupe, 10-20 mm long by 8-15 mm diameter with a bony centre, initially smooth and becoming wrinkled with age. 5 or fewer seeds.


Oblong, flattened, wingless. No aril.


Key Characters:

Deciduous tree.

Leaves compound 2-3 pinnate, 2-many leaflets (25-75 usually)

Leaflets usually toothed.

Calyx 5 lobed.

Ovary superior

Petals <20 mm long

Courtesy Gwen Harden and E.M. Bennett


Life cycle:

Perennial, deciduous tree. Probably takes 3 years before it produces seed.


Drought resistant.

Moderately frost resistant.


By seed.

Flowering times:

Spring in NSW.

Late spring to early summer in western NSW.

Spring in WA.

September to October in Perth.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Seed probably has a short to medium longevity in the soil.

Vegetative Propagules:


The Australian material is often assigned to variety australasica.


Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Spread by seed and intentional planting. Produces large amounts of seed that is spread by birds and water flows.

It will coppice when cut down. It forms suckers when roots are damaged. Prunings and branches in contact with the soil may form roots and new plants (layers).

Origin and History:

Asia. South western Asia.

Introduced as an ornamental.

Variety australasica is probably native to the northern Australia including the Kimberley.





Temperate, subtropical.


Plant Associations:



Ornamental. Shelter. Planted as a shade tree.

Timber used for cabinets and softwood articles.

Bark used by aborigines as a fish poison.


Weed of the disturbed and regrowth bushland.

May induce asthma.

Large production and drop of berries in garden situations.

Invasive weed of the USA.


Fruit toxic to pigs and poultry but rarely a problem in poultry under field conditions. May be harmful to children.

Occasionally cattle, sheep, goats and dogs are poisoned after access to ripe berries. Leaves fed to dairy cows may taint milk.

May induce asthma.

The berries contain most toxin followed by the bark and young flowers. Fresh leaves are considered non toxic.


In pigs - restlessness, vomiting, difficult respiration, cyanosis, convulsions and death within a few hours.

In sheep - excitement followed by dullness, difficult respiration and death within 18 hours.

In cattle - weakness trembling and a frothy discharge from the nose.

Other symptoms include diarrhoea, colic, paralysis and coma.


Prevent access to fruit and don't plant these trees in or near stock yards.


Noxious weed of the USA.

Management and Control:

Plant alternative shade trees that are not spread by birds. Manage bushland to reduce disturbance. Hand pull seedlings. Cut or spray mature trees close to desirable bush


Eradication strategies:

Cut down the tree and paint the stump immediately with triclopyr.


Apply a 25 cm band of triclopyr to the bark near the base of the trunk.

Seedlings can be manually removed.


Apply a mixture of 100 mL of Access® in 6 L of diesel the lower 25 cm of the trunk.

Hand pull seedlings or spray the Access® mixture above or triclopyr.

Herbicide resistance:

None reported.

Biological Control:

Attacked by the caterpillars of the White Cedar Moth that strips all the leaves and appear in large numbers. The caterpillars or "Itchy Grubs" irritate the skin if touched.

Related plants:

None that are weedy.

The true Mahogany from tropical America Swietenia mahagoni is in the same family.

Plants of similar appearance:

Tree of Heaven, Cotoneaster.


Bodkin, F. (1986). Encyclopaedia Botanica. (Angus and Robertson, Australia).

Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Milthorpe, P.L. and Leigh, J.H. (1992). Plants of Western New South Wales. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P450. Photo.

Everist, S.L. (1974). Poisonous Plants of Australia. (Angus and Robertson, Sydney).

Gardner, G.A. and Bennetts, H.W. (1956). The toxic plants of Western Australia. (West Australian Newspapers Ltd, Perth). P122.

Harden, Gwen J. (1991). Flora of NSW. (Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney). Volume 2. P278. Diagram.

Hussey, B.M.J., Keighery, G.J., Cousens, R.D., Dodd, J. and Lloyd, S.G. (1997). Western Weeds. A guide to the weeds of Western Australia. (Plant Protection Society of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia). P176. Photo.

Lamp, C. and Collet, F. (1990). A Field Guide to Weeds in Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne).

Lazarides, M. and Cowley, K. and Hohnen, P. (1997). CSIRO handbook of Australian Weeds. (CSIRO, Melbourne). #640.1.

Marchant et al (1987). Flora of the Perth Region. (Western Australian Herbarium, Department of Agriculture, Western Australia). P476.

McBarron, E.J. (1983). Poisonous plants. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P136. Diagram.

Randall, J.M. and Marinelli, J. (1996) Invasive Plants. (Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Inc. Brooklyn). P37. Photo.


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