Chinaberry – how to identify this poisonous plant and diagnose/treat poisoning.
Mahogany (Meliaceae) Family
Description: The poisonous Chinaberry tree (also known as bead-tree, Persian lilac, white cedar, Texas umbrella, pride of India, or Cape lilac) has a round, spreading crown and grows up to 14 meters (42 feet) tall. It has alternate, compound (odd-pinnate) leaves with toothed (serrated margins) leaflets that are dark green on top and light green underneath. Its small, fragrant flowers are light purple with a dark center and grow in ball-like masses with each having five pale purple petals. It has marble-sized fruits that are light orange when first formed but turn to light yellow as they become older. Over time they will become withered and almost white in color. Seeds are hard with five grooves.
All parts of the tree should be considered dangerous if eaten. Its poisonous leaves are a natural insecticide and will repel insects from stored fruits and grains. Take care not to eat leaves mixed with the stored food.
Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, bloody feces, stomach pain, cardiac arrest, rigidity, lack of coordination, and general weakness. Death may occur after 24 hours.
Habitat and Distribution: Chinaberry is native to the Himalayas and eastern Asia but is now planted as an ornamental tree throughout the tropical and subtropical regions. It has been introduced to the southern United States and has escaped to thickets, old fields, and disturbed areas.
Other uses: The primary use for a Chinaberry tree is for its lumber. The hard, five-grooved sees are often used to make beads for jewelry (e.g. rosaries).