Syringas are my most hated of alien, invasive plants in Durban. They spread like wildfire, grow easily in this climate and are a task to remove. Since coming back to Durban last October I have seen more and more of them, and it seems that many people (myself included) don’t know the details.

A few Google searches revealed that what we erroneously call ‘Syringa’ is in fact Melia azedarach, the ‘Chinaberry’ Tree, which is part of the mahogany family and native to India, southern China and Australia. While some of the facts about the tree sounded familiar; the use of its leaves for medicinal purposes (also in Indian and Zulu communities in KZN) and the fact that its berries are toxic to humans but not to birds (which facilitates the spreading of the plant), I was surprised to find that it is commonly used as timber.

Melia azedarach has a timber of high quality, but is generally underutilised. Apparently, the seasoning of the wood is also relatively simple as it dries without cracking or warping and is resistant to fungal infection. I quickly did the Math. Durban is overrun by these alien and invasive trees that grow to around 12m, which equals a lot of crack-free, water and fungus resistant timber, that could be used as building materials or to make furniture etc. as in the case of Koop.

Surely this could be done at a municipal level too? The eradication of invasive alien trees, the planting of new, indigenous ones, and in the process, skill-sharing, creating awareness about alien plants, and producing resistant and sturdy timber that could be used for building or to create furniture for schools… Seems like a good idea to me. Are there facts that are missing? Is Syringa / Chinaberry as worthwhile as the Internet suggests? What do you think?

Syringa berries
Syringa berries

Common Names: Chinaberry, Pride-of-India, Persian Lilac, White Cedar or Bead Tree
Synonymy: M. australis Sweet; M. japonica G. Don; M. sempervirens Sw.
Origin: Asia

Syringa flowers
Syringa flowers

61 thoughts on “Syringas”

  1. I am wanting to make tree stump stools out of syringa.. Will there be any poisonous side effects if your skin is in contact with the raw wood (seen as the berries are poisonous) or is this a good idea?? Time to rid durban of these invaders!

  2. Hi Ronnie,

    Did you get any further with this? Sounds like a good idea! I don’t know that there are any negative side effects. Let us know!

  3. How does one get rid of them permanently? After we cut ours down and debarked the stumps we ended up with multiples of saplings. The main stump is in an awkward position making it very difficult to dig up.

  4. I have read with interest the idiotic and pathetic logic behind called a plant or animal and alien species in some place or another. If your logic holds any water, we should be irradicating the potato, since this this is poisonous unless cooked. We should kill all men because if they are near a women there is a potential for rape. We should destroy all cows, chickens, pigs in case the meat goes off and someone gets sick. Use your brains !!!!!!

  5. I’m happy to read that there is some use for the Syringa wood. I have a plot with too many such trees and have taken a few big ones down. I’ll be processing the larger trunks into 50mm planks and hopefully find a market for the timber. Thinner ones will end up as firewood.

  6. I think the timber of the syringa tree could be used in the coffin industry, which always needs timber / lets export the timber to countries in the rest of our continent

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