Common Name(s): Chinaberry
Scientific Name: Melia azedarach
Distribution: Southern Asia, Australia and Oceania
Tree Size: 30-50 ft (9-15 m) tall, 1-2 ft (.3-.6 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 38 lbs/ft3 (610 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .47, .61
Janka Hardness: 990 lbf (4,400 N)
Modulus of Rupture: 14,100 lbf/in2 (97.2 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 1,300,000 lbf/in2 (8.97 MPa)
Crushing Strength: 8,100 lbf/in2 (55.9 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 5.0%, Tangential: 8.5%, Volumetric: 13.6%, T/R Ratio: 1.7
Color/Appearance: Color can range from a light pinkish orange to a deeper reddish brown. Color becomes darker upon prolonged exposure to light. Well-defined sapwood is a lighter yellow.
Grain/Texture: Grain is usually straight, though occasionally interlocked. Texture is coarse and uneven, though with a pronounced natural luster.
Endgrain: Ring-porous (or sometimes semi-ring-porous); 2-4 rows of large earlywood pores, small to medium latewood pores in tangential, diagonal, or clustered arrangement; reddish brown heartwood deposits present in earlywood; rays may be just barely visible without lens; parenchyma vasicentric, confluent, and banded (marginal).
Rot Resistance: There are many conflicting reports on Chinaberry’s durability. The heartwood is generally considered at least moderately durable, and somewhat resistant to insect attack.
Workability: Due to it’s moderate density and generally straight grain, Chinaberry is quite easy to work: it cuts, planes, sands, and glues well. Perhaps the only difficulty is in its large pores, which tend to give a very open and grainy finished appearance, which may need to be filled, particularly if a smooth glossy surface is desired. (Though if left as-is, it serves well in applications where a rustic look is desired.)
Odor: No characteristic odor.
Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Chinaberry has been reported to cause skin and respiratory irritation, as well as headaches. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.
Pricing/Availability: Not commercially available as lumber, Chinaberry is mostly restricted to smaller-scale and hobbyist uses. Most pieces available in the United States are not imported, but are harvested from (introduced) locally grown trees. Prices should be moderate for such a specialty species.
Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Common Uses: Veneer, carvings, furniture, and turned objects.
Comments: Sometimes called “Persian Lilac,” though the name usually rather refers to a hybrid lilac in the Syringa genus. Chinaberry is not closely related to true lilacs, but is rather related to the various types of Mahogany in the Meliaceae family.
Chinaberry is a potentially commercially valuable timber tree throughout its natural range in Asia, though perhaps under-utilized and under-appreciated. Chinaberry has also been introduced in the southeastern United States as an ornamental tree, though it’s now considered by many to be an invasive species.
Scans/Pictures: A special thanks to Mike Leigher for providing the wood sample of this wood species.