Melia azedarach (White Cedar)

February 27, 2007

Featured tree

whitecedar.jpg

It will tolerate a variety of environmental conditions. As it ages it can develop an interesting knarled form (The fruit drop can be messy!!) It’s quick to establish and provide a dominant, attractive canopy in the landscape. It has attractive flowers and soft foliage that provides dappled shade. In winter it has yellow berries making it interesting all year round.

Origin
Queensland and New South Wales.

Habit:
Small deciduous tree. Wide spreading, broad domed canopy that develops a marked layered appearance. Fast growth rate, mature size ranges between 6-10m high x 5-8m wide.

Description:
Leaves bipinnate, large, glossy, and fresh green coloured. Bark a dark brown with shallow fissures when young becoming grey-brown and furrowed with age. Flowers purplish mauve borne in diffuse panicles in spring. Yellow berries persist during the winter.

Tolerances:
Adapts to most soils. Moderate waterlogging and drought tolerance. Not seriously affected by pest or disease.

Root space:
Based on mature size tree would require approximately 50m2 area or 30m3 root volume (crown projection method).

Availability:

Common.

Notes:
A handsome tree, berry persistence amongst winter tracery adds an element of interest, though eventual fruit drop can be a problem. Germinates readily in the right conditions, is a weed species in the northern states. Requires formative pruning.

Ref: Kellow, J. (Ed) (1994) Landscape plant manual:
Vol. 1, V.C.A.H Burnley College, Australia.

Download printable pdf fact sheet

Stephen

About Stephen

Stephen is the Manager Consulting and a Director of Tree Logic

View all posts by Stephen

Follow Tree Logic

Click on the icons below to view other Tree Logic content

39 Responses to “Melia azedarach (White Cedar)”

  1. Carmen Says:

    We live on a few acres. Last spring we decided to put our two mini mares in foal, this week both mares aborted, vet has done a autopsy on the babies. The caterpillars that feed on the white ceder trees are the cause of the abortions. When the caterpillars shed their skin it ends up all over the paddock, mares ingest the hairs and skins causing the abortion. We have about 25 of these trees, all now to be cut down.

  2. sandra cock Says:

    I wanted to plant a white cedar as a shade tree in my backyard to replace the ash tree whose roots are producing seedlings ruining my vegie garden and undermining our paved area. Clearly this tree would not be a wise choice. Any ideas about a deciduous (preferably native) tree that would offer good shade, without a spreading root system and which would not be invasive?

  3. fiona lindsay Says:

    hello , the house next door to us, has them growing all over the yard, they are forever dropping stuff, they’re such a pest tree in our area. I am forever pulling them out of my yard & gardens . since the trees have multiplied in the yard next door by themselves , I get Hives at this time of the year , they effect my sinuses & my son has had operation on his sinuses & needs go back to the doctor again because his nose is not getting better , they trigger my other son ashma & my husband gets hay fever with them . they should not be recommended to people as a great tree to plant , they pop up everwhere in wangaratta and the council do nothing , they’re just left to grow into full sized trees . they should be removed from our town and there would be less allergies around . all could be happier and healthier.

  4. Stephen Frank
    Stephen Frank Says:

    Linda,
    White cedar is not suitable for planting in paddocks, along paddock fences or in areas where livestock could get access to them and particularly the fruit. The plant is toxic to sheep, cattle pigs, dogs and poultry. There have been no recorded instances of poisoning of horses, however is still listed as toxic. Goats are at low risk.
    Unfortunately Linda I would remove the Melia and look for an alternative species.

  5. Linda Says:

    Hello
    I planted some white cedars on my farm as they look like such nice trees. I was not aware of how poisonous these plants are. I have livestock, cows and sheep in the paddock. Do I need to remove these trees to protect my animals? At present the trees are only about 1 metre tall. We live in Queensland.

  6. Chris from Canberra Says:

    There is scientific information available on Melia azedarach if you care to seek it out. The CSIRO have an amazing resource for those interested in the plant and animal species of Australia that is known as the Taxonomy Research & Information Network (TRIN). They have a fantastic database of “Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants” that is apparently the result of 40 years of dedicated work. The link to the Melia azedarach page is a bit of a shocker but their search system in not easily accessible so I have reproduced the link:
    http://keys.trin.org.au:8080/key-server/data/0e0f0504-0103-430d-8004-060d07080d04/media/Html/taxon/Melia_azedarach.htm

    The quote of particular interest in it is: “This species has caused death in domestic animals and in children.”

    It looks like they are quoting their source as: Everist, S.L. (1974). Poisonous Plants of Australia. Angus and Roberston. Sydney.

    I think that given the scientific basis for toxicity risks from plants like this there should be fines for people who plant this tree in areas that might be easily accessible to children under two years of age. Fines should also apply to people who plant trees that want to grow to 20m tall underneath or right next to power lines that are 8m above the ground.

  7. James Martens-Mullaly Says:

    Hi Christine,
    Thanks for your query.
    Sudden dieback can be symptomatic of a range of biological disorders and environmental factors. That more than one species are showing signs of dieback implies an environmental or biotic factor is involved, some examples of which can include waterlogging, herbicide damage, chemical spill or some other contamination such as leaking water from a saltwater pool
    I suggest you have a horticulturalist or arborist investigate the site.
    Regards,
    James

  8. James Martens-Mullaly Says:

    Jo,
    White Cedar in Melbourne are presently in the midst of leaf burst. In my travels over the last week I have seen numerous specimens at various stages of leaf development. Be patient, as some trees will leaf later than others. In the meantime if you want to check tree vitality, use your fingernail to scratch the bark of a branch. If the tissue beneath is green then your tree is alive.
    Regards,
    James

  9. Jo Says:

    I planted a white cedar as a bare root stock tree (about 1 metre in size) in June (Vic) and now in mid Oct it still has not budded at all. Do I give up on it and plant another?

  10. Christine kimpton Says:

    I have an autumn blaze Canadian maple which is about 7 years old and about 8 metros tall. Last year I noticed that all the leaves on several branches on the south side of the tree died of. With the new growth for this year the leaves are very small and more areas have no leaves. The branches are still green. It happened very quickly. This year the plants under tree died all of a sudden.(within 3 days). They were good and then lost all their leaves as well. Bruce Callander had given me advice on trying to fix an ill looking pear tree several years ago (mixture of seasol and sugar) which helped that tree so I also used it on the maple but to no avail. I live in Melbourne . Can u suggest a solution as I don’t want to loose the tree. It is also near a pool

  11. Brenton Says:

    I hate the damn trees. They are ugly and make a mess. It is a weed species here in South Australia yet people still deliberately plant them in their yards. They spring up national and conservation parks unwanted and are a pest.

    When we bought this house there were 4 mature specimens which were promptly cut down and replaced with species native to this region. I don’t want the nearby conservation park to become infested with weeds from my yard.

  12. James Martens-Mullaly Says:

    Dear Kyra,
    Thanks for your query.
    The unwanted stock surrounding the parent trees may be a combination of growth emerging from the roots of the parent tree, referred to as root suckers, and seedlings. It would be difficult to distinguish one from the other. While it may be expedient to treat the seedling with herbicide, herbicide applied to root suckers can be translocated to the parent trees through the common root system causing injury or death to the parent trees. To avoid the risk of herbicide damage of the parent tree I suggest mechanical removal of the unwanted plants.
    Regards,
    James

  13. Kyra Says:

    We have just moved into a old house with a few large white cedar trees. I am happy to keep the main larger trees, but there are hundreds of suckers ranging from 50cm tall to 5 m trees. What can I do to remove/kill them? Can I poison them? Will it kill the main tree?

  14. Shane Says:

    Wow Chris – you really have it in for this poor tree. Let’s wrap all the kids up in cotton wool or maybe keep them in glass bubbles. Why don’t we remove every potentially toxic plant from any place they could cross our paths. Did you hear the little known fact that HUMANS are in fact LETHAL to plants – we chop them down grind them up exploit them for our own betterment with little regard for their children. Meanwhile half the crap on the shelves in supermarkets contains chemicals which depending on quantity or your constitution, are poisonous. The boy in the bubble will produce children ever more sensitive to the slightest impurity until inevitably anything other than the 5 state condoned ‘pure foods’ will be a heinous threat to survival. Granted even I anjoy getting on a soapbox once in a while, but you won’t find me coming back to have the last word one year later. Good luck with the monoculture… I’m off to plant a Melia.

  15. Chris from Canberra Says:

    Another authoritative source on toxicity is “Primefact 359” put out by the NSW DPI (November 2006). It might vary between individual plants but according to Primefact 359 this species is “Capable of causing serious illness or death” and “6-8 (berries) are sufficient to kill a small child”.

  16. John Says:

    Steve I would also like accurate up to date information but so far have found no truly reliable source online or offline. Poisoning is treated by medical practioners if serious and it is their collated data which eventually filters out to the public but that is a slow painful process.

    My advice to my clients and to the reader is identify the plant first. This can be done using books and online resources or even asking a professional. Once you have a positive identification you can then research the plant and make up your own mind as to whether it is suitable for your property. I recommend government sponsored websites for accurate information as these are reviewed by experts and subject to standards.

    In the meantime, asking questions in a forum such as this one is a great way to get advice but such advice should be confirmed elsewhere before making any serious decisions.

  17. Steve Says:

    John,
    I wonder how many Perth people are poisoned by the other many common and popular, poisonous garden plants?
    Are there any official statistics collected by the authorities which are available online?

  18. John Says:

    As a certified arborist I speak to hundreds of tree owners every year and can assure other readers that there are multiple known cases of small child and particularly dog poisoning from fruit consumption in Perth WA. These trees are also the only known food source for the white cedar moth whose caterpillars can be a veritable plague if not controlled. The timber will split vertically when stressed producing “barber chair” fractures which often involve much larger limbs than on other common trees. I recommend planting other trees of which there are thousands to choose from. If you have an existing tree, please have a certified arborist perform a harness inspection to determine the risk of branch failure and rather than remove the tree consider a dynamic cable system. Sort of like having seat belts in the tree. It is possible to have your arboricultural cake and eat it too.

  19. Stephen Frank
    Stephen Frank Says:

    Greg,
    Thank you for your comment.
    In regard to the wounding/damage you are seeing on top of the branches; without seeing the tree, it sounds to me like sunburn damage. Particularly if the canopy has been grazed by caterpillars. Excessive exposure to solar radiation results in sunburn damage on branches facing directly towards the sun (north/west side in Perth). The sunburn damage and resulting drying, cracking and loss of bark often allows the entry of other pathogens, including wood boring insects. I would not recommend painting the wound, it will have no real impact on slowing the decay. The tree will endeavour to compartmentalise (wall off) the decay, however in my experience, it is difficult to sustain the tree into the longer-term. As branches become weakened they can fail. I would recommend you get an arborist to inspect the tree.

  20. Greg Prout Says:

    I have a comment to add to the white cedar saga, firstly our son grew up with these demon trees in our back yard from the age of 9 months, and trying the berries from time to time. He was often being told by us that the berries where Yuk (excuse the French) and also had to pry the things from his mouth much to his disgust. Eventually the bitter taste moved him on to sweeter adventures the trees were never in danger of the chop even today some 28 years later. Just for the cool shade and relaxing area these trees present, calming our lives and any guest that visit our house.
    The chooks and dog have never had any issues with the berries in their green or yellow states.
    BUT the rats become addicted to the green berries, they spend many hours in the trees after sun down firstly peeling the skin off like you would an apple, in one curling strip. Dropping this to the ground and eating the pulp then discarding the seed. This causes three problems,(1) they don’t consume enough green berries to keep up with the trees production process (2)the rats produce too many litters (3)rat baiting is then needed to control numbers.
    I’m fascinated by the feedback you receive on these modest trees and hope you can give us some direction on a problem that has become very noticeable over some time.
    The problem lies on the top of the horizontal and 45deg bows of the white cedar. Strips of bark up to two meters long and three quarters the width of the bow (150 ml to 300 ml)have died and shed off exposing the centre core of the bow, the tree then attempts to re grow over the wound which takes some years. The only way we have found to assist the tree, is to clean the wound and paint the core to stop or slow down the rotting of the unprotected core.
    Any feedback would be appreciated, we have thought the rats may have infected the top surface of these bows which is used as pathways plus other things rats drop.
    Just one more thing and I will close and that is the White Cedars moths have devastated many trees here in Perth, but only over the past few years. We will continue the fight to control the moths for our beautiful trees. Thanks for listening.

  21. nursewayne Says:

    Years ago, in Northern NSW, was employed by Department of Health to set up a group home for intellectually disabled teenagers. We bought an established house and, prior to the residents arriving, got an arborist to check out the garden for possible poisonous plants. The list of potential toxins was so extensive that we would’ve had to remove nearly every bush and tree from the garden (which had initially attracted us to the house). We didn’t do so, and there were no disasters.

  22. Lindsay Field Says:

    We all manage risk every day – It is a risk to drive a car, swim in the water, in some locations to walk down the street. We all manage these risks by following what ever rules apply however there is always some residual risk left over. for example you drive a car and obey all the rules yet you cant predict what someone else will do – hense a residual risk remains.

    There is some risk associated with trees as well. Having been in the operational and tree management sections of Arboriculture I have heard of instances where there some individuals have reacted to a particular tree. As a child growing up in Newcastle NSW I was made aware by my parents that Oleanders (which I walked past every day) were toxic and not to touch or eat them.

    I have not been aware of a case of poisoning from White Cedars in Newcastle. There may be some potential risk however as with all things knowlege and education of children are our best defences.

    The planting of the low fruiting variety has minimised this problem.

  23. Ray Rosanna Resident Says:

    I quite like the tree.. it is magnificent for a few days in Autumn. Then it drops the leaf canopy in a day or two and the house looks yellow. Then it drops the twigs the leaves grew on.. and then the berries. Then the flowers.. it will still have twigs and berries when the flowers come out, so it is dropping something all year around. But it also picks up.. the road, driveway, pavement.. and there are suckers coming up all over the place. Well the council is going to cut it down.. for which I feel sad, but people have tripped over the ruined pavement and ruined road. It is just simply in the wrong place. The trunk fills the whole area from kerb to foot path.. and the canopy stretches from one side of the street to over the edge of the house. Some in the area have beautifully twisted tops, but they were not cared for properly. Pity and a shame.. The white cockatoos occasionally would sit up there and eat the berries.. they would go completely nuts. Perhaps that is the toxins. man they are tough birds.

  24. Grant from McLaren Flat Says:

    I can understand Chris’ concerns regarding reported toxicity of M. azedarach berries, as we are about to plant two of this species on our LARGE nature strip and have researched the topic ourselves. We have a son about to start walking and, yes, he jams everything in his gob that he can pick up. But, having read everyone’s comments both expert and layman, I am sure that, as responsible parents, we can effectively manage the “hazard” presented by this tree until such time as he decides to stop hoovering everything. We would prefer not to let him (or anyone else’s children) play unattended in the street in front of our home in any case!!

  25. Cazz Says:

    My dog used to eat lots of the berries, from our white cedar tree, off the ground in our backyard. She did this for 5 years. When she eventually passed away (aged 14) I asked the vet if the berries were the cause. The vet said the cause of death was a tumour on her uterus and she was old. He did not believe consuming the berries led to her death and that the amount of toxins from these berries was pretty low. He had never heard of a dog becoming sick from consuming them.

  26. Emily Says:

    My 16 month old son is always putting the white cedar berries in his mouth. It would be impossible to clean up all the berries in our yard, and I cant lock him indoors. Im glad to read that they are only toxic in large quantities! We are in the process of teaching him not to chew the berries and he is slowly starting to understand. Just wanted to let other parent know not to freak out as he has never become unwell from the berries. Id rather watch him carefully and teach him the right way, rather than cut this magnificent tree down – our planet needs all the trees it can get! Im more concerned about the other yucky things he puts in him mouth such as bird poo, dog biscuits etc!!

  27. James Martens-Mullaly Says:

    JD,
    The timber is used on the Asian continent as fuel and in construction, cabinet/ furniture making, manufacture of agricultural implements, furniture, plywood, boxes, poles …; it is reputed to be resistant to termites. Depending on your level of interest you may find the following article interesting Title:’Wood properties and utilization possibilities of Melia Azedarach from agroforestry plantations of Java, Indonesia.’
    Personal Authors: Pramana Gentur Sutapa, J.,
    Publisher: Cuvillier Verlag.
    Abstract:
    The wood properties of Melia azedarach were examined, using 30 trees with an average diameter at breast height of 35 cm from a traditional agroforestry area in northern Yogyakarta, Java. The stem quality was measured and the anatomical properties such as width of growth ring, early wood, late wood, heart wood proportion and the fibre length were determined. The drying quality such as moisture content, shrinkage, differential shrinkage, twist, cup, spring, and cracks were measured. The beams were shaped into structural size and physically and mechanically tested. The safe load and other mechanical properties were determined. The results indicate that wood from M. azedarach is suitable for building constructions. The allowable tension of Melia wood is relatively high. The wood of M. azedarach has middle specific gravity. It has good mechanical properties, elasticity and dimensional stability, and suitable for furniture and as interior design material. Dried beams of high quality can be produced using air drying and convective drying. Its differential shrinkage is in the same range as teak wood. Due to its fast growth, good stem quality and its low shading effect of the canopy, it is suitable for agroforestry and plantations.

  28. JD Says:

    Is the wood of this tree any good for anything?

  29. Chris from Canberra Says:

    The authoritative ANBG site indicates high toxicity. See http://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/interns-2008/melia-azedarach.html. As is often the case in scientific names – the name means a lot – “azedarach – the name given by the Persian physician Avecinnia (980-1037) to a poisonous tree”. My understanding is that toxicity has been tested by feeding plant material to sheep. The difference between dog faeces and white cedar berries is that the berries are attractive and seem like they could be eaten. Do not plant white cedar anywhere near where small kids will be.

  30. Lee
    Lee Says:

    Chris, having a sick child is a terrible thing for a parent. I know as I have 2 large hairy smelly ones myself! In our front garden or our neighbors gardens when these boys were infants we had Oleanders and Rhuss trees growing and these are also toxic but they managed to survive. One of our neighbors had a dog so I was far more concerned about other ‘material’ that they picked up and put in their mouths! As I said, having sick kids is bad…However, having a sick planet is far worse. We need more trees not less! I would point you to previous replies on this subject that note that there is no real evidence regarding the toxicity of this tree. I am glad that your son is OK and you can tell him an educating story when he gets old enough to understand.

  31. Chris from Canberra Says:

    This is a horrible species. My 12 month old son chewed on one green berry that I unknowingly walked inside the house on the sole of my shoe. He was quite sick for about 12 hours. You cannot simply “tell” a very young child not to eat the attractive berries. If I have visitors with young children there is a constant worry that any very young ones will be damaged by this tree. Cannot cut it down as ACT has very restrictive rules on chopping down trees over a certain size.

  32. Norma Morton Says:

    The White Cedar was part of life on farms in the Riverina but I find it impossible to find a nursery with one.

  33. Stephen Frank
    Stephen Frank Says:

    Pamela,
    I have been involved in urban tree management for over 20 years. I have been the arborist for cities that had significant numbers of Melias either growing in streets or open space. I have never heard of anyone being poisoned by ingesting the berries from this tree. According to “Poisonous plants of South Carolina” [as seen 16 March 2009 http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/poison/Meliaaz.htm the berries are only toxic if large amounts are eaten. Other supporting information can be found with a search on the internet. Many plants can have toxiological effects on people, however reasonable behaviour would suggest they are not necessarily a huge threat to the community. Dependent on the area, this species has many other good characteristics.

  34. Pamela Engelander Says:

    Mostly relieved to read comments re instructing children not to eat berries of media azedarach. Have just planted three of them outside our community meeting hall and a community member has been extremely upset about reading the ‘children poisoning’ threat of melia’s berries. Do I have to dig them out? Comment by another writer that no case of child poisoning by melia’s berries is consoling.

  35. Brett Says:

    Jill, thank god we have people like yourself in the world..

    As a hort graduate with almost 15 years in the industry of Landscaping & Arborculture, i still find it hard to believe the solution for a problem tree is to cut it down….

    Every tree drops fruit, seed, leaves, bark etc.. i have heard every story in the book about what a problem their tree is, i think it is time people started taking abit of responsibility for there own actions & stop blaming trees which have been around for 1000’s of years..

    If the fruit is toxic dont eat it, it cant be any simpler than that..

    For all the people, not in the know.. Just because this species is considered a weed in Queensland, it is not true for it in Victoria & the southern states where it is a fantastic street tree in almost all conditions..

  36. Jill in Canada Says:

    I just had to comment on that last comment.

    To parents and grandparents living close to plants & trees that have toxic berries –

    Just do what parents and grandparents have done since the dawn of humanity – go around with the children and grandchildren and point out which berries they can eat and which berries they cannot eat. I grew up on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. I learned early on, from my elders, which berries I could eat and which others I couldn’t eat because they can make you very sick or can kill you, etc.

    Try it. It works. Kids have great memories of what they can and cannot eat.

  37. Colin Mallett Says:

    How do I convince my local council (Moonee Valley in Melbourne) to remove the Melia Azedarach tree from the nature strip outside my home. I have six grandchildren under the age of five.
    The local Parks and Gardens Manager says “it’s just a bit noxious”, and lectures me on the wonderful benefits of trees in our environment (I hadn’t noticed this before in my sixty eight years on Earth). What can I do ? sacrifice a grandchild?
    Help me please.
    Colin Mallett
    41 Lincoln Drive,
    East Keilor, Vic 3033

  38. Stephen Frank Says:

    Metropolitan Trees have selected a form of White Cedar that produces less fruit. The variety is called ‘Elite’ see description at http://www.metrotrees.com.au/treehandbook/page-listings/melia_azedarach%20_elite.html
    White Cedar is a common street tree in Melbourne, I know of no recorded instances of poisoning due to ingestion of the fruit, you would need to eat a quantity.
    Thanks for the size information, tree size will differ dependent on location. The literature cited lists the dimensions.
    White Cedar is not the only tree species to conflict with hard surfaces.

  39. Colin Bertuch Arborist City of Wodonga Says:

    Berry drop is persistant hazard causing slip and skid problems for both cars and pedestrians. Cyclists also complain. Large mature trees are often now being removed due to nuisance. Berry also toxic and all melia are being removed within proximity of schools and preschools. Tree becomes quite large,(15 x 20) unsuitable for naturestrips as hard paving suffer, kerbs and roads lift and broad spread of crown present pruning challenges to neighbouring properties. Attractive tree in open space.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.