A native of Asia, Chinaberry and was brought to the U.S. in the late 1700’s by a French botanist. Chinaberry has been used over the years as an ornamental plant, shade tree, and fuel wood. There are also some medicinal applications for Chinaberry including a peptide isolated from leaf tissue that is effective against the herpes simplex virus. Unfortunately, Chinaberry has all the qualities of a successful weed. This plant is adaptable to many environmental conditions, is virtually disease and insect free, and thrives in disturbed or open areas.
Chinaberry is not currently listed on Florida’s Noxious Weed list, nor is it listed on the Federal Noxious Weed List. Distribution of Chinaberry is not limited to the United States (from Virginia to Florida and westward to Texas) for it is common in Central America, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Chinaberry is known to form dense thickets in forests and marshes, displacing native vegetation as it grows. It is also a very common hedgerow tree.
Chinaberry is a deciduous tree in the Meliaceae, or Mahogany Family 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. Leaves are alternate and 2 to 3 times compound (8 to 18 inches). Leaflets have serrated edges and are 1 to 3 inches long.
In spring, long, fragrant, lilac-like flowers are produced in leaf axils. Yellow to yellow-green round drupes are formed after flowering and can persist after leaf drop in the fall. The fruits are mucilaginous and sticky, with hard, round; marble-like seed. Birds spread seed effectively but the fruits are poisonous to humans and other mammals. Because the seeds are poisonous, birds may become paralyzed after ingesting seeds. Chinaberry also reproduces vegetatively when the tree is cut, producing suckers that form a dense stand of vegetation.
When Chinaberry was introduced into the U.S. as an ornamental its natural enemies (diseases or insects) were not brought along with it to maintain its populations at low levels. Along Florida’s road sides, in natural areas and forests, and marshes Chinaberry has the ability to grow rapidly and displace the native vegetation in those areas. Through prolific reproduction via seed as well as vegetative reproduction, it is able to shade out other species by forming a dense thicket. The leaf litter produced by Chinaberry causes the soil to become more alkaline, giving an advantage to those species that fair well in alkaline soils. Chinaberry is also believed to have allelopathic properties, prohibiting other species to colonize the area in close proximity to Chinaberry. Overall Chinaberry reduces the plant diversity in any area in which it grows.
Controlling Chinaberry is best accomplished when trees are very young, prior to seed production. Because the seed is very hard, it may remain dormant in the soil for several months or years. Therefore, be persistent and visit a clean site several times before declaring it “Chinaberry-free”. Another preventative measure is to control trees along fencerows and neighboring hedges, limiting seed introduction.
Weeds such as Chinaberry generally invade open or disturbed areas – following a burn, clearing mowing, etc., so these areas are particularly vulnerable to invasion. Therefore, a healthy ecosystem with good species diversity will help to deter infestation. Seeds may be hand picked from trees and discarded properly, however this may not be a realistic or cost effective tactic for larger infestations.
Mechanical control is limited to cutting, although mowing prevents seedling establishment in pasture and rangeland settings. It is thought that Chinaberry may be susceptible to fire, but more research must be done to validate this claim. Cutting back Chinaberry must be integrated with chemical control because of its proclivity to resprout.
There is limited research and data on biological control of Chinaberry.
Herbicides prove to be the best method of control for Chinaberry. Foliar applications of glyphosate or triclopyr will be fairly effective on trees less than 10 feet tall. A dilution of triclopyr (Garlon 3A at 2 to 3% solution or Garlon 4 at 0.5 to 2% solution) in water can be used. Be sure to include a non-ionic surfactant at 0.25% (10 mLs or 2 teaspoons per gallon of spray solution). A 2 to 3% solution of glyphosate (Roundup, etc.) can also be effective.
A basal bark application of triclopyr (Garlon 4) has also been shown to be an effective treatment. Triclopyr can be applied in a 4 to 8-inch band near the base of the trunk in a 15% solution. Studies have shown a cut stump treatment of 8% triclopyr is almost completely effective in eliminating Chinaberry. Herbicides should be applied before the onset of fruit production to prevent seed production. Repeat applications may also be necessary for complete control.
University of Florida, IFAS Extension, Circular 1529, Invasive Species Management Plans for Florida, 2008 by
Greg MacDonald, Associate Professor Jay Ferrell, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Brent Sellers, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Ken Langeland, Professor and Extension Weed Specialist Agronomy Department, Gainesville and Range Cattle REC, Ona
Tina Duperron-Bond, DPM – Osceola County
Eileen Ketterer-Guest, former Graduate Research Assistant
View more information and pictures about Chinaberry tree, as contained in the Langeland/Burks book, Identification & Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas.
1. Identification and Biology of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas – Second Edition, by K.A. Langeland, H.M. Cherry, et al. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 257. 2008.
2. Strangers in Paradise, Impact and Management of Nonindigenous Species in Florida, Chapter 2: Florida’s Invasion by Nonindigenous Plants: History, Screening, and Regulation, by D.R. Gordon and K.P. Thomas, pp. 21-37. Island Press, Washington, DC, 1997.
3. Invasive and Non-native Plants You Should Know - Recognition Cards, by A. Richard and V. Ramey. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 431. 2007.
4. Integrated Management of Nonnative Plants in Natural Areas of Florida, by K. A. Langeland, J. A. Ferrell, B. Sellers, G. E. MacDonald, and R. K. Stocker. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 242. 2011.