Marian Carcache: Its beauty can be deadly too

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 If there were a chinaberry tree fan club, I should be its president.

I grew up climbing chinaberry trees, making playhouses in the shade under them, stringing beads from their berries, and enjoying the heavy sweet fragrance of their purple flowers in the spring. As a child, I had no idea that the chinaberry tree is associated in mythology with the Garden of Eden’s Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or that its seeds have been used for rosary beads. I just knew it was pretty and smelled good.

My friends in horticulture are not chinaberry fans. They say it is “not native” and is invasive.  Ironically, though it may not be “native,” it has been here since the 18th century, quite a few years longer than they have.

Some of the best Southern authors have generously represented the chinaberry in their work. Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Zora Hurston, and William Faulkner all pay homage to the lovely tree in their fiction.

But enjoy with caution. It is important to be aware that its bark, berries, leaves, and flowers are poisonous to animals and humans.

Thomas Jefferson is said to have written that a chinaberry tree would keep flies away. Apparently, some people still plant them near garbage cans to discourage insects.  And last year, at a lecture at Auburn’s medicinal plant garden, I learned that chinaberry discourages fleas. Placing branches with leaves in closets, beneath chair cushions, under a house, and in other places where children and pets can’t chew them will keep fleas at bay.

The chinaberry tree makes the world a prettier place – but like most beautiful things, it can also be deadly.

Marian Carcache  welcomes 

comments at carcamm@auburn.edu.