Friday, April 23, 2010

Definitely NOT Chinese Food

One of my favorite ornamental plants in my yard is my variegated Chinaberry (Melia azedarach 'Jade Snowflake') also known as the Texas umbrella tree. I have it in a 30 gallon container in the very front of my yard. It has blown through the bottom of the container and taken root right into the ground. The really neat thing about it this year, it has flowered for the first time. To me, the flowers look like little Orchids. Others say that it has lilac like flowers. Either way, they are very pretty.

They have a scent to them, to me they smell like a baby powder perfume. My wife says they stink. To each their own I guess.
I received this plant at one of my first plant swaps. My wife chose it because it was variegated, I liked the name , I figured it was another source of food.I was WRONG!
The Chinaberry is a native of Asia, it was brought to the U.S. in the late 1700’s by a French botanist. Over the years it has been used as an ornamental plant, shade tree, and fuel wood. It has traditionally been thought to bring good luck. Which is kind of funny as you will learn later on in this article. It is seen from Virginia to Florida and westward to Arizona and up into Washington State. Zones 7-10.
Chinaberry is listed as a Category I species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. This means that it is invading and disrupting natural communities in Florida. It also is reported to be invasive and disruptive in 11 other states, including Hawaii and Texas. It has all the qualities of a successful weed. It will adapt to many environmental conditions, is virtually disease and insect free. However, Scale, Whitefly and sooty mold will infest it on rare occasions. It has been known to form dense thickets in forests and marshes, displacing native vegetation as it grows.
Chinaberry is a deciduous tree with purplish, reddish bark. It is able to grow to 50 feet in height, although trees less than 30 feet in height are more common. It flowers in the Spring, and produces yellow to yellow-green round drupes after flowering. The fruits are sticky, with hard, round, marble like seeds. Birds eat the fruit and spread the seed. Because the seed is very hard, it may remain dormant in the soil for several months or years. The fruits and seeds are poisonous to humans and other mammals however.
It can be grown in everything from part shade/part sun to full sun. It can be grown in a wide range of soils, including both acidic and alkaline. It has a high tolerance to drought. It is even moderately tolerant of salt spray. This is one tough plant!
To me, the variegated leaves are very pretty.

There will be people that complain about the invasive tendencies of this plant. They will ask, "Why in the world are you growing it"? Believe it or not, you can buy seeds online for it! One of my favorite quotes I found when researching this tree is, "You will not find anyone that will recommend planting this tree, but, fine examples can be found growing in the worst soil". So, apparently it can have its place. In my little neighborhood, I don't foresee it becoming a problem. There are no forests or any real wooded areas in the area. Everybody is required to mow their yard at least once every two weeks. So there should be no way for it to get a foothold here. I enjoy the looks of my tree, it gives contrast to all my other plants. It is also one heck of a conversation starter because, nobody knows what in the world it is!
Happy Growing!


  1. Very informative article, thanks. I picked up this tree at a little gift shop on the Colonial Williamsburg property last year. I planted it in the spring underneath 5 adult pine trees as it brought good contrast and liked the rareness of the leaves, trickles of white mixed with the light green color. I thought the winter took it out, but then was delighted to see it this year. It is only about two feet off the ground and only has four branches reaching out but it looks very exotic and places well. Now after reading your comments, I cant wait for it to establish and produce some flowers. Since you mention it is very hardy, I will try and propogate one of the stems and provide it a more advantageous location, one with more sun. Hard to believe this tree is considered invasive, but not the first good looking tree to land in this category. I stumbled onto your blog trying to find more information on this tree and will now lock you in the favorites bar.

  2. Thanks Todd, Glad you liked it!