The Australian white cedar (Melia azedarach L.) is native to Australia and South East Asia, where it is often referred to as the Persian lilac, Chinaberry or the umbrella tree. The tree is grown as a shade tree throughout temperate parts of the world including the United States, where the tree has been cultivated as a popular yard tree for 200 years, according to the University of Florida. It stands approximately 40 feet in height when fully grown and often has a spread of 20 feet
Sprays of 4- to 6-inch fragrant lilac and white flowers are produced in abundance each spring and early summer. The flowers grow in large clusters that attract abundant bees. The stamens of each flower are enclosed in a deep, dark purple tube. The leaves of the tree are bipinnate and measure up to 2 feet in length.
Round yellow 3/4-inch fruit are produced after trees flower and remain on the tree long after the leaves have fallen off in autumn. The fruit is highly toxic to humans and animals. Consuming only six to eight of the trees' tiny fruit can prove fatal to an adult, according to the Australian National Botanic Gardens. Birds are capable of eating the fruit with no toxicity. Birds spread the seeds of the tree widely by fruit consumption and defecation.
The Australian white cedar trees seeds are widely used in arts and crafts. Rosaries are created using the hard seeds as beads. The tree can often become a noxious weed due to its ability to easily procreate through its seeds. One tree can become a thicket with ease from reseeding, according to the University of Florida, and it is considered to be invasive and disruptive to the natural habitat.
The Australian white cedar prefers to be grown in partial shade to full sun. The tree can tolerate moderate frost but cannot withstand harsh winters. It thrives in well-drained soil and is exceptionally drought tolerant once established. The tree can adapt to most soil types. It is a relatively short-lived tree with an average lifespan of 20 years.
The only pest that afflicts the Australian white cedar is the cape lilac tree caterpillar (Leptoceneria reducta). The pest poses a serious problem in parts of Australia, where it feeds only on the Australian white cedar. The tiny, furry caterpillars can easily overtake the tree and become a nuisance to humans by invading homes and buildings. The caterpillar has the ability to defoliate and kill the tree if left untreated.