A Chinaberry (Melia azedarach) Removal

The call came late Saturday afternoon, “the wind just blew a Chinaberry tree over on our house, can you come over to look at it?” I quickly got ready and headed to the address. I wasn’t sure what I would find or how much work I would need to do before dark. The neighborhood has some very large old trees and this could be one of them. Sometimes its fine to leave something like this for a few days and sometimes it’s not. That is always a judgement call. What a shock when I drove up to the house!

Chinaberry trees are native to southeast Asia and Northern Australia. They have naturalized into about the southern half of the United States where they thrive in disturbed areas along roads and forest edges. The ones growing in Wickenburg are typically old trees that had been topped before or are volunteer trees in different areas. The berries for which the tree are named are toxic to people and livestock but are eaten by birds (at least to the extent that they disperse the seeds. The berries seem persistent on the trees and will still be found as the tree is in flower, but the ground under them is always a mess and littered with shed berries.

If the berries are on a hard surface you better watch your step - it's like walking on ball bearings!

Here are some pictures of the flowers and berries which are very distinctive.

Chinaberry flowers and foliage

Chinaberry berries and foliage

The wood is soft and weak which is probably why many of the older trees were topped in the past under the assumption that it would make them safer. Instead, this set up a progression of decay and suckering that has rendered the trees more dangerous than they were before topping!

Here is what I saw when I walked up to the tipped tree:

The whole center of the tree was basically gone!

The tree had been topped many, many times and the center of the tree was completely rotted out. The old “suckers” were up to 10″ diameter and perhaps 18ft tall – they had split the main trunk apart. A third of the tree ended up on the house, a third on the carport and a third was still standing. There appeared to be no discernible roof damage so we decided to leave it for Monday morning. Here is what it looked like when I got there:


... and after!

We carefully took weight off the branch tips from the roof and the ground. As we got into heavier wood we had to be careful to not damage the roof. The homeowner had a high deductible so their Homeowners Insurance didn’t come into play. It’s always best to talk to your agent before doing anything to a tree on your roof – they might cover at least part of the cost depending on your policy!

Here is a picture of the last cut we made on the trunk – see the extent of the decay?

See the extent of the decay?

If you look carefully at the “before” picture above you can see a small palm tree that got hit by the branches falling on the house. The palm actually helped the situation because it slowed the fall of the tree onto the roof. The homeowners had never liked the palm there, and wanted us to take it out also. We cut if down as we got the tree off of it. The small trunk went to the palm carver (see this post) but we did something different with the top part.

Have you ever eaten palm hearts? We got ours fresh out of this tree! I cut several sections down from the top and then peeled the older fronds away from the outside. Here is what I ended up with:

A big chunk of "Heart of Palm"

“Heart of Palm” is actually the immature fronds inside the top of the tree. Parts of it have the leaf sections (very neat “acordion-folded”, pure white sheets of material), and even the spines along the edges of the frond! All of it is soft, but some parts are stringier than others. It is a little sweet tasting. I think it is a lot better tasting than Mesquite sap, but not quite as good as Pecans (fresh off the tree!). I took this piece home and we want to use it for some different things including stir-fry.

I need to run to Phoenix to pick up some trees at Arid Zone Trees (see this post) as well as a “new” nursery for me – Greenfield Citrus Nursery – look for a report soon…