China Berry
Melia azedarach Linnaeus
Meliaceae (Mahogany) Family

China Berry is also known as China Tree or Pride of India, White Cedar, Bead-Tree, Cape Lilac, Syringa Berrytree, Persian Lilac and Indian Lilac.

Plant is a prized shade tree of the far south; nearly evergreen, having dense, spreading branches with clusters of yellowish fruit. Preferred habitat is old fields, roadsides, prairies and edge of woodlands. Distribution is throughout the Escambia region.
Flowers are pale purple on narrow violet tubes that smell nothing like the crushed leaf. These are sweet smelling and float on the night air like the Southern Magnolia, but the more pungent male flower can cause symptoms similar to hay fever.

Leaves are bipinnately compound and at least 1.5 feet in length with slender green axis and few paired forks. Leaf segments are lance-shaped or egg-shaped, saw-toothed, wavy or lobed; hairless or nearly so. Dark green above, paler beneath; obnoxious odor when crushed.

Fruit is a small yellow berry with juicy pulp that becomes wrinkled; matures in autumn and remains attached during the winter months. Fruit is poisonous.

Cultivation of the tree either as an ornamental or in the wild is dubious at best. Its branches are weak and break easily during bad weather. The root system is shallow but far-reaching and is known to clog drains and damage a septic system field lines.

This is one of the most prolific members of the tropical Mahogany family. It grows fast but is short-lived; however, there is one member of the species, Umbrella Tree, that is grown as an ornamental, which does have longer life.

The fruit stones of this tree can be dried, washed, dyed and strung into attractive beads. The only drawback is the fruits are abundant and create much unwanted litter. The seeds are toxic and at one time were used as a narcotic. We see this quite often as songbirds (Jays) find the fermented berry attractive and having feasted on the seed it acts a little “tipsy” and on the wild side -- maybe that's why this otherwise beautiful songbird gets so rowdy and mean. They seem to take great delight in swooping down on the unsuspecting to peck and scratch the top of one's head.

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