By Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
Living in the south means constantly combating insects of all shapes and sizes. They especially love hot, humid weather just like the kind we are experiencing now. The Chinaberry tree is viewed as nature’s defense against all the bugs in the forest, but it is also an invasive tree. It is up to the landowner to put aside his or her hatred for pesky insects and take extensive measures to control this invasive species.
Melia azedarach is a deciduous tree that belongs to the mahogany family. It was introduced in the mid-1800s from Asia. It was prominently planted as an ornamental around home sites. This was probably due to its insect repellent capabilities and overall aesthetics. It commonly grows to heights of 30 feet and has a purplish bark. In the spring, it produces lilac-colored flowers that are very fragrant. In late summer, it begins to produce berry-like fruits that are poisonous to humans in livestock. These fruits persist through January, changing from light green to a light tan color. The Chinaberrytree can be found along roadsides (as with many invasives) and forest margins and around abandoned or dilapidated home sites. They are rarely found at high elevations, but are shade and flood tolerant to an extent. The majority of Chinaberry seeds are dispersed by avian species. Germination is restricted if suppressed by a mature tree, but will fully begin after parent tree removal. Along with pesticides, the Chinaberry has also been used for cabinetry. Although softer than other mahoganies, the Chinaberry wood is used mostly for inexpensive cabinets. It possesses the same attractive grain that other mahoganies display. Many people are still attracted to Chinaberries to this day because of their ability to repel fleas. Old timers believe that if there is a Chinaberry in the yard, their pet will forever be flea free thanks to this invasive species. The Chinaberry is still an invasive which means it will outcompete and take over any native vegetation. The leaf litter from a Chinaberry makes the soil very alkaline therefore killing anything that cannot thrive in an alkaline soil. It will also shade out native species by forming dense thickets around it. The best way to control a Chinaberry thicket is to be very proactive and maintain your fencerows and forest margins. Pull any weeds or small trees before they are able to produce seeds to reduce your chances of starting a Chinaberry thicket. If you fall behind on your weeding, herbicides can also be used as a management technique (usually glyphosate or triclopyr).
It is important to learn the ecology and biology of a tree before you deem it beneficial to your property. For example, farmer Bob might tell you that Chinaberries are the best trees to have due to their ability to repel insects, but the fact of the matter is they are invasive. Chinaberries are no different than any other invasive; they will prohibit the growth of native species and will harm the overall forest health. Ol’ Blue may never get fleas, but the growth of your forest will surely suffer if you allow Chinaberries to prosper on your property.
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