When damaged, chinaberry sprouts from roots (, review by ) or from stumps [7,124]. Root sprouts grow from root buds on lateral roots as a response to physical damage (e.g., fire, animal injury, tree felling) . Chinaberry has been propagated from cuttings, root suckers , and adventitious buds that develop on the callus tissue of root segments. The larger the diameter of root segment, the more sprouts it will produce .
Chinaberry trees produced from sprouts may grow faster and reproduce earlier than trees produced from seed. Following disturbance, survivorship of chinaberry root sprouts (ca. 40%) was higher than for seedlings (0.5-3%). Within 2 years, trees produced from root sprouts accumulated more than 200 times the biomass of trees produced from seed, and some trees had reached reproductive stage .
Chinaberry trees are prolific seed-producers. Seeds are spread widely by birds and water. Birds disperse seeds to new locations, often far from the parent plant. Seeds falling from trees along riparian areas may be carried downstream. Seeds can survive drying out and can still germinate after several years.
Trees to 10 m tall, deciduous. Bark brownish gray, longitudinally exfoliating. Branches spreading; branchlets with leaf scars. Leaves odd-pinnate, 2-pinnate or 3-pinnate, 20-40 cm; leaflets opposite; leaflet blades ovate, elliptic, or lanceolate, 3-7 cm long, 2-3 cm wide, but terminal one usually slightly larger, both surfaces with stellate trichomes when young but glabrescent, secondary veins 12-16 on each side of midvein, outspread and ascending, base ± oblique and cuneate to broadly cuneate, margin crenate or sometimes entire, apex shortly acuminate. Thyrses ± ca. 1/2 as long as leaves, glabrous or covered with short lepidote pubescence. Flowers fragrant. Calyx 5-parted; sepals ovate to oblong-ovate, outside puberulent, apex acute. Petals lilac-colored, obovate-spatulate, 0.9-1.3 cm, both surfaces puberulent but usually outside more densely so. Staminal tube purple, 7-8 mm, with longitudinal stripes, glabrous or subglabrous, apical margin with 10 narrow lobes; lobes conic, further 2-3-lobed; anthers 10, inserted on inner side of lobes and alternate to lobes, narrowly elliptic, apex slightly mucronulate. Ovary spherical, glabrous, 5-8-locular, with 2 ovules per locule; style acerose; stigma capitate, not included within filament tube, apex 5-dentate. Drupe globose to ellipsoid, 1-3 cm long, 0.8-1.5 cm wide; endocarp ligneous. Seed ellipsoid.
Chinaberry, also called pride-of-India, umbrella-tree, and Persian lilac, is a fast-growing tree that can grow to 50 feet tall. Its twigs are slightly purple with light-brown spots (lenticels). The leaves are large (up to 2 ft. long), blue-green, with long stalks (petioles), and doubly compound (i.e., divided twice into smaller leaflets). Individual leaflets are toothed and pointed. The leaves turn golden-yellow in the fall. Flowers are small but showy, appearing in clusters at the end of branches in early spring. Each flower has five narrow pink petals surrounding a central purple-red tube. Fruits are round yellow berries, which mature into brown leathery seed capsules.
NOTE: Chinaberry may be confused with a native shrub, common elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). When in flower or fruit the two species may be distinguished by the color of those features; elderberry exhibits white flowers and dark-purple berries.
In North America, chinaberry is a fast growing tree (, reviews by [33,55,78,96]) and sometimes produces fruit in as little as 3 to 4 years (review by ). In its native range, annual growth rings are wide, sometimes as much as 0.5 inch (1 cm) (review by ). Chinaberry seedlings planted in experimental croplands in Uganda grew to 15 feet (4.5 m) tall and 1.8 inches (4.5 cm) wide (root-collar diameter) within 30 months. On another site, chinaberry seedlings grew to nearly 30 feet (10 m) tall and 8 inches (20 cm) wide within 50 months of planting. Seedlings planted at 4,100 feet (1,250 m ) elevation grew faster than those planted at 5,280 feet (1,610 m) . On a plantation in northwestern India, 6-year-old chinaberry trees had an average height of 32 feet (9.8 m), a diameter (DBH) of 4.17 inches (10.6 cm), and a crown spread of about 18 feet (5.6 m) .
Comments: This species has been introduced from the Old World tropics. It is easily distinguished from all other Meliaceae in the Neotropics by its 2-3-pinnate leaves, with serrate, crenate, or dentate leaflets.