Deciduous tree in the mahogany family. Flowers are small and fragrant, with five pale purple of lilac petals, growing in clusters. The fruit is a drupe, marble-sized, light yellow at maturity, hanging on the tree all winter, and gradually becoming wrinkled and almost white. Leaves are up to 50cm long, alternate, long-petioled, two or three times compound. The leaflets are dark green above and lighter green below, with serrate margins.
Fruits are poisonous to humans if eaten in quantity. However, like those of the Yew tree, these toxins are not harmful to birds, who gorge themselves on the fruit, eventually reaching a “drunken” state.
Native to Pakistan, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia.
Main use of chinaberry is for its timber, which is of medium density, and ranges in color from light brown to dark red. The plant was introduced around 1830 as an ornamental in the United States (South Carolina and Georgia) and widely planted in southern states. Today it is considered an invasive species by some groups as far north as Virginia and Oklahoma. But nurseries continue to sell the trees, and seeds are also widely available. It has become naturalized to tropical and warm temperate regions of the Americas and is planted in similar climates around the world.