Azadirachta indica (neem tree)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Environmental Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Wood Products
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Azadirachta indica A. Juss.
Preferred Common Name
- neem tree
Other Scientific Names
- Antelaea canescens Cels ex Heynh.
- Antelaea javanica Gaertn.
- Azadirachta indica subsp. vartakii Kothari, Londhe & N.P.Singh
- Azadirachta indica var. minor Valeton
- Azadirachta indica var. siamensis Valenton
- Melia azadirachta L.
- Melia indica (A. Juss.) Brandis
International Common Names
- English: bastard tree; bead tree; cornucopia; Indian cedar; Indian lilac; margosa tree; neem; paradise tree; Persian lilac
- Spanish: margosa; mim
- French: azadirac de l'Inde; margosier; margousier
- Arabic: azad-daraknul-hind
Local Common Names
- Brazil: neem; nim
- Ethiopia: azad darakht i hindi; nib
- Haiti: nin nin
- India: baka-yan; balnimb; bevina mana; bevu; bukhain; kadukhajur; kahi-bevu; kirri-bevu; kohumba; limachajhada; limba; limbdo; limbo; neem; nim; nimani; nimbay; nimgachh; nimuri; nind betain; olle; taruka; vakam; vembu; vempu; vepa; vepe; veppam; veppu; veppur; yepa
- Indonesia: imba; intaran; membha; mempheuh; mimba
- Iran: azad-darakhat-hindi
- Kenya: mkilifi; mwarubaini kamili
- Laos: ka dao
- Malawi: mkina; ndya
- Malaysia: baypay; mambu; sadu; veppam
- Myanmar: bowtamaka; tamabin; tamaka
- Nigeria: dongoyaro
- Pakistan: nim
- Singapore: kohumba; nimba; veppam
- Sri Lanka: kohomba
- Thailand: khwinin; sadao; saliam
- Vietnam: s[aaf]u d[aa]u
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
A. indica has been extensively introduced throughout tropical and subtropical regions. However, it has become invasive in only a fraction of the countries where it is cultivated and utilized as a multipurpose tree. Although it does not possess some of the attributes of other invasive species, e.g. long seed viability, ability to compete with other plants in the seedling stage, it does produce seed prolifically, and seed dispersal is often aided by birds and mammals. This has allowed it to become a serious problem in the native forests of several African and Caribbean countries. Bingelli (1999) describes A. indica as a moderately invasive species.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Rutales
- Family: Meliaceae
- Genus: Azadirachta
- Species: Azadirachta indica
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
Meliaceae is a woody family of plants comprising 50 genera and about 640 species widely distributed throughout the tropics and subtropics, with only slight penetration into temperate zones (Muellner et al., 2005; Stevens, 2012). Species in the genus Azadirachta are closely related to and sometimes confused with species of the genus Melia. However, an easy distinction can be made between the two genera based on leaf and ovary morphology: Azadirachta spp. have simple pinnate leaves with a pair of orbicular glands and a pair of elongated glands at the base and by the 3-locular ovary, while Melia spp. possess 2- to 3-pinnate leaves with one pair of orbicular glands and a 4- to 8-locular ovary (Lemmens et al., 1995). The name Azadirachta is derived from the Persian name of the tree, azad-darakht-i-hindi. Azadirachta has two species, A. indica, thought to be native to dry areas within the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent and possibly Myanmar (Lemmens et al., 1995) and A. excelsa, native to South-East Asia.
In Thailand, A. indica var.siamensis, was recognized by Valerton, but no infraspecific taxa are recognized in the most recent treatment of the genus by Mabberley et al. (1995).
DescriptionTop of page
A. indica is a medium to large, deep-rooted, evergreen tree, to 15(30) m tall, with a round, large crown to 10(20) m in diameter; branches spreading; bole branchless for up to 7.5 m, up to 90 cm in diameter, sometimes fluted at base; bark moderately thick, with small, scattered tubercles, deeply fissured and flaking in old trees, dark grey outside and reddish inside, with colourless, sticky foetid sap. Leaves alternate, crowded near the end of branches, simply pinnate, 20- 40 cm long, light green, with 2 pairs of glands at the base, otherwise glabrous; petiole 2-7 cm long, subglabrous; rachis channeled above; leaflets 8-19, very short petioluled, alternate proximally and more or less opposite distally, ovate to lanceolate, sometimes falcate (2) 3.5-10 × 1.2-4 cm, glossy, serrate; apex acuminate; base unequal. Inflorescence an axillary, many-flowered thyrsus, up to 30 cm long; bracts minute and caducous; flowers bisexual or male on same tree, actinomorphic, small, pentamerous, white or pale yellow, slightly sweet scented; calyx lobes imbricate, broadly ovate and thin, puberulous inside; petals free, imbricate, spathulate, spreading, ciliolate inside. Fruit 1 (or 2)-seeded drupe, ellipsoidal, 1-2 cm long, greenish, greenish-yellow to yellow or purple when ripe; exocarp thin, mesocarp pulpy, endocarp cartilaginous; seed ovoid or spherical; apex pointed; testa thin, composed of a shell and a kernel (sometimes 2 or 3 kernels), each about half of the seed’s weight (Orwa et al., 2009).
Plant TypeTop of page
DistributionTop of page
There is much confusion in the literature about the natural distribution of A. indica. It is considered to be native to dry areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China (Abdulla, 1972; Tewari, 1992; Vietmeyer, 1992; Gupta, 1993). It is cultivated as well as naturalized in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The World Agroforestry Centre (2002) reports that it may have originated in Myanmar and from there became naturally distributed across the Indian subcontinent. More recently it has been planted in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, Saudi Arabia, tropical Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America (see Distribution Table for details).
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 02 Jun 2021
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Planted||Reference||Notes|
|Central African Republic||Present||Introduced|
|Congo, Democratic Republic of the||Present||Introduced|
|Congo, Republic of the||Present||Introduced|
|Egypt||Present||Introduced||First reported: 1800s|
|Mauritius||Present||Introduced||Invasive||First reported: 1800s|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||Present||Introduced|
|Senegal||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Original citation: Chamberlain (2000)|
|Indonesia||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Naturalized||Naturalized and cultivated|
|Sri Lanka||Present, Widespread||Naturalized||Planted||Naturalized; Original citation: Stoney (1997)|
|Yemen||Present||Introduced||Cultivated; Original citation: Bilaidi (1978)|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Present||Introduced|
|British Virgin Islands||Present||Introduced||Guana, Tortola, Virgin Gorda|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Present||Introduced|
|Saint Lucia||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Escaped from cultivation; risk in disturbed and burnt habitats|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Present||Introduced|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Present||Introduced|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||Present||Introduced||St. Croix, St. John|
|Federated States of Micronesia||Present||Introduced||Cultivated|
|Fiji||Present||Introduced||Invasive||First reported: 1800s|
|Marshall Islands||Present, Few occurrences||Introduced||Invasive|
|Papua New Guinea||Present||Introduced|
|Wallis and Futuna||Present||Introduced||Cultivated|
|-Rio Grande do Norte||Present||Invasive|
|Guyana||Present||Introduced||Naturalized||Naturalized; First reported: 1800s|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
A. indica has been successfully introduced throughout Africa, the Middle East, South-East Asia, Australia, the Pacific islands, the Caribbean, Central and South America and the southern USA (Streets, 1962; Tewari, 1992; Vietmeyer, 1992). The largest nearly pure stand of A. indica is probably in Saudi Arabia, where about 50,000 trees have been raised on the Plains of Arafat near Makkah (Vietmeyer, 1992). Most of these introductions occurred during the 1800s. During this century, it was taken to Fiji, Mauritius and Guyana by South-East Asian emigrants, and to Egypt by the British and has become one of the most rapidly spreading trees with a wide distribution through the tropics and subtropics (World Agroforestry Centre, 2002).
A. indica is reported to have become invasive in some of the countries where it has been introduced. For example, it has been listed as invasive in Puerto Rico (Federal Highway Administration, 2001) where it is associated with dry grounds in the Dominican Republic (IABIN, 2003) and several other Caribbean countries. It has invaded endemic coastal forests in Kenya (Hamilton A, World Wide Fund for Nature, Godalming, UK, personal communication, 2002), and is widespread in Ghana (Cobbinah J, Forestry Research Institute of Ghana, personal communication, 2003) where a programme to monitor its invasiveness was begun (Chamberlain, 2000). It is a weed in the Gambia where it is becoming established in natural forests at the expense of native trees (WRM, 1999). Its ability to spread rapidly has also been reported to cause problems in Senegal (Chamberlain, 2000), notably in the southern Casamance region and also in neighbouring Guinea Bissau, where it was already considered a nuisance weed in 1995 (Pasiecznik N, CAB International, personal communication, 2004).
In Northern Territory, Australia, there are indications that A. indica is escaping from plantations (Reilly D, Department of Business Industry and Resource Development, Government of Australia, personal communication, 2002) and it is also described as a weed of concern in Arnhem Land (Anon, 1998). In Brazil it was officially introduced in 1986, and since the 1990s the species has been cultivated commercially in the Southeast, Midwest, North and Northeast of Brazil (Freire et al., 2013).
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
The widespread introduction of A. indica across the tropics and subtropics means that in most countries where invasion is possible, the species will already have been introduced. It has, however, become invasive in certain parts of its introduced range, and monitoring of this species in areas of higher rainfall may appear merited.
HabitatTop of page
In India and Pakistan, A. indica occurs naturally in dry deciduous and thorn forests (Champion et al., 1965), and grows in mixed forests with Acacia species and Dalbergia sissoo in India (World Agroforestry Centre, 2002). In its exotic range, it is reported to have become invasive in a number of habitats including fallow agricultural land, savannah, and dry and arid forests (Hamilton A, World Wide Fund for Nature, Godalming, UK, personal communication, 2002), coastal forest in Ghana (Chamberlain 2000), lowland monsoon forest in Indonesia and evergreen forest and dry deciduous forest in Africa (World Agroforestry Centre, 2002).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural forests||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
Two chromosome numbers have been recorded for this species, 2n=30 in root tip mitosis and 2n=28 (Tewari, 1992). The genetic potential of A. indica has not been fully assessed. A marked difference in the yield of azadirachtin has been observed from different seed sources (Siddiqui, 1995), with seed from Ghana yielding 3.5 g/kg whereas Indian seed yielded only 0.2 g/kg. Therefore genetic improvement studies should be undertaken to utilize the genetic variation in the species, including selection of A. indica plus trees for important traits, general growth, medicinal, insecticidal, antifeedant and pesticidal characteristics, maturity and yield of fruits and properties and yield of oil. Provenance studies should also be carried out to determine suitable seed sources for various localities, though care should be exercised, because it is difficult to distinguish between natural stands and artificial plantations of this species.
In many of the areas where A. indica has been introduced, unspecified Indian/Pakistani seed sources have been used. Therefore, provenance seed collection should be carried out in distinct populations of this species. An International Consultation on Establishment of Provenance Trials of this species was constituted by the FAO in 1993 to assist a number of countries to select suitable seed sources for planting. On the basis of results of progeny tests of plus trees and provenance studies, seed orchards could be established. Studies on mutation and breeding of polyploids, as well as vegetative propagation and tissue culture, also need to be carried out as they hold great potential for genetic improvement (Tewari, 1992; Parveen et al., 1995).
Physiology and Phenology
A. indica starts fruiting at about 5 years of age, but economic yield of fruit begins at 10-12 years. There are 3300-4500 seeds per kg, and on average a medium-sized tree produces 37-55 kg of fruit (Streets, 1962; Luna, 1996). Fruit ripening coincides with the rainy season and under natural conditions, the fruit falls on the ground and germinates within 15 days. On very dry sites or during the periods of extreme drought, A. indica can become almost entirely leafless for a brief period and new leaves appear in March-April before the old leaves have fallen, but it always remains in full leaf during the summer when the shade is most needed (Hocking, 1993; Luna, 1996). Depending on climatic conditions, flowering has been seen to occur at various times throughout the year. In the hot and dry subtropical areas of Pakistan, A. indica flowers in early summer and its fruit develops during the rains from June to August (Tewari, 1992). In Thailand, A. indica trees flower from December to February and fruit in March to May (Lemmens et al., 1995). The life span may be some 200 years (World Agroforestry Centre, 2002). A. indica seedlings are unable to compete with other plants, and grasses present a particular problem in early establishment, however, they are able to withstand shade during the early years of development (World Agroforestry Centre, 2002).
A. indica produces bisexual flowers or male flowers on the same tree. Flowers are pollinated by insects including bees (Apis spp.), and there are indications of self-incompatibility (World Agroforestry Centre, 2002). There are large quantities of seed and on average a medium-sized tree produces 37-55 kg of fruit per year (Streets, 1962; Luna, 1996). In Puerto Rico, where the species is invasive, germination of fresh seeds is 98-100% (Federal Highway Administration, 2001), but seeds have a short viability of about 3-4 weeks, and germination falls to about 55% after 11-14 days (Parker, 1956; Pirani, 1994). Birds and bats play an important role in dispersal of the seed. Baboons can act as major dispersers in some areas, e.g. in the Shai Hills Game Production Reserve in Ghana (Chamberlain, 2000), and germination is enhanced by passage through the baboon guts (Mabberley, 1997). A. indica is frequently self-sown in gardens and the areas under mature trees are quickly colonized by a carpet of seedlings. It has the ability to establish itself under the protection of thorny bushes and to survive in dry poor soils, provided it is not subjected to frost (Tewari, 1992). Although the main reproduction is by seed, root suckering does occur, for example when the roots are damaged.
A. indica has wide climatic adaptability and thrives under sub-humid to semi-arid and arid climatic conditions. It grows at temperatures as low as 1°C and as high as 49°C (Siddiqui, 1995), though it is generally found in areas with mean maximum temperatures of 26-38°C, mean minimum temperatures of 24-28°C and mean annual temperatures of 24-32°C. It is a species of arid and semi-arid tropical and subtropical ecological zones, with a mean annual rainfall of 450-1150 mm. However, in the Thar Desert of Pakistan, A. indica tolerates as little as 113 mm rainfall per year (Siddiqui, 1995) and a dry season up to 8 months long. A modified description of climatic requirements was prepared by CSIRO (Booth and Jovanovic, 2000).
A. indica has an altitudinal range of 0-1500 m (Tewari, 1992; Webb et al., 1984), however it grows better at low altitudes. The tree grows on a variety of soils, clayey or sandy, saline or alkaline. It does particularly well, however, on black cotton soils and deep, well drained soils with good subsurface water. Unlike most other multipurpose tree species, A. indica thrives on dry, stony, shallow soils and even on soils with hard calcareous or clay pans at a shallow depth (Tewari, 1992). The tree improves soil fertility and water holding capacity because it has the unusual property of calcium mining, thereby neutralizing acidic soils. Its extensive root system also has a rare physiological capacity to extract nutrients from highly leached sandy soils. A. indica can grow on soils with a wide pH range. The optimum growth is at pH 6.2 to 7, but it can also grow well down to pH 5 and survive in soils between pH 3 and 9 (Lemmens et al., 1995).
In India and Pakistan, A. indica occurs naturally in dry deciduous and thorn forests (Champion et al., 1965). In India, A. indica can be found growing with species of Acacia and Dalbergia sissoo (World Agroforestry Centre, 2002).
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Absolute minimum temperature (ºC)||1|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||21||32|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||33||43|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||4||21|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||1||8||number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall|
|Mean annual rainfall||450||1500||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page
Soil TolerancesTop of page
Special soil tolerances
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
The fruits, seeds, and foliage of A. indica contain several compounds that repel or kill insects, inhibit the growth and development of fungi, and limit the infective ability of plant viruses. Despite this, several herbivores have been recorded on A. indica (Pirani, 1994; Siddiqui, 1995); however, relatively few cause serious damage (Tewari, 1992). Eight orders and 32 families of insects have been recorded feeding on A. indica.
A number of foliage feeding insects have been reported, although they are not extensive or frequent defoliators of A. indica trees. Fire ants (Solenopsis spp.) have caused severe defoliation of 3- to 6-year-old trees in Andhra Pradesh, India and A. indica was the only plant fed upon, even though other plants were available. In Central and South America, leaf cutting ants (Acromyrex spp.) are common defoliators. Loopers (Lepidoptera: Geometridae) have occasionally been reported as defoliators, as has the widely distributed species Ascotis selenaria. Boarmia variegata also defoliates A. indica in nurseries in India, and Leoria cornaria is found both in nurseries and on young seedlings. Caterpillars of the genus Eucema (Lepidoptera: Pieridae) also have been reported as defoliators (Pirani, 1994; Luna, 1996).
The powder post beetles Apate monachus and A. terebrans are native to most of Africa, having a wide range of host plants, including A. indica. The larvae feed on the sapwood of dead trees and logs and reduce it to a fine powder. Adults attack young trees and bore into small stems and branches either killing trees directly or making them susceptible to mechanical injury. Both species have been introduced to the Caribbean Islands and Brazil (Hocking, 1993; Pirani, 1994). Cydia (Laspyresia) aurantiana and C. koenigian are both shoot borers and foliage feeders, and boring can kill buds and cause excessive branching. In some cases up to 55% of A. indica shoots have been infested by C. aurantiana (Pillai and Gopi, 1990). Several species of termites have been reported, sometimes locally damaging but do not kill living trees.
Sucking insects constitute the largest group of insects that utilize A. indica as a host plant. At least 20 species representing nine families, have been recorded, feeding on the foliage, branches and stems of host plants. This causes desiccation of plant tissue and results in drying of the foliage, defoliation, stem and branch dieback, and occasional tree mortality (Tewari, 1992; Gupta, 1993; Pirani, 1994). Some species have salivary toxins that accelerate damage and tree death. An insect known as the tea mosquito (Helopeltis antonii) attacks terminal shoots, causing a drying of the foliage and terminal shoots believed to be due to a phytotoxic reaction to the saliva of the feeding insects. While large trees tend to recover, heavy infestations have been shown to cause seedling mortality and widespread damage has been reported in southern India. H. antonii is also a pest of cashew (Anacardium occidentale) plantations, and it is believed that large numbers of insects are carried by northeast monsoons from cashew to A. indica plantations from October to December.
The Oriental yellow scale or cochineal (Aonidiella orientalis) has caused widespread damage in parts of Africa and India, attacking the foliage and young stems and heavy feeding gives trees a burnt appearance. A. orientalis has a wide distribution and has been reported in China, South-East Asia, Australia, the Indian subcontinent, Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, USA (Florida) and the Caribbean, found primarily on citrus and other tropical fruit trees. A. orientalis was reported on A. indica in Sudan in 1935, and in Cameroon in 1972, and during the mid-1980s, it spread over much of central and northern Cameroon to Chad, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria. In Nigeria, infestations have been treated with pesticides and infested branches have been removed. An outbreak which occurred in the Lake Chad Basin in 1987 is believed to be related to stress associated with lowering of the water table (Pirani, 1994). The large scale insect, Pulvinaria maxima (Homoptera: Coccididae), occurs throughout the Indian subcontinent and Malaysia and epidemics have been recorded in central and southern India. Both adults and nymphs feed on the sap of tender shoots and leaves and heavily infested trees in an advanced stage of attack are conspicuously coated with thick, sticky white patches. Heavy infestations reduce tree vigour and promote premature leaf fall and dieback of infested shoots and repeated attacks can kill trees. The feeding scales produce honeydew, a sweet substance that serves as a medium for the growth of sooty moulds (Von Carlowitz, 1991). The lesser snow scale (Pinnaspis strachani) has a wide distribution and host range and colonies of this woolly scale attack shoots and foliage of A. indica in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
An eriophyid mite (Calipitrimerus azadirachtae) has been recorded on foliage and tender shoots of A. indica in India. Feeding causes yellowing of foliage, deformity, and desiccation of foliage and shoots and in some cases the damage caused can be severe (Tewari, 1992; Pirani, 1994).
The fungus Odium azadirachtae causes a powdery mildew of neem foliage and several bacteria, including Pseudomonas viticola, P. azadirachtae and Xanthomonas azadirachtii, cause leaf spot diseases (Tewari, 1992). Root rot is caused by the fungus Ganoderma lucidum, with a worldwide distribution and a broad host range. Sporadic infections occur in young plantings of A. indica when stumps and roots of the previous tree crop are not removed from the site, and it attacks the sapwood and causes a white spongy rot. Symptoms of infection are pale, thin foliage and branch dieback, and fruiting bodies often occur at the base of the stem (Vietmeyer, 1992; Pirani, 1994). A. indica is one of many plants affected by pink disease caused by the fungus Corticium salmonicolor. This disease can cause serious damage, especially under tropical conditions (Hocking, 1993). The earliest sign of infection is the presence of white or pink pustules on dead bark, and a conspicuous pink layer of fungus mycelium spreads over the bark. In time, the bark may be entirely destroyed and the outer layers of wood killed, and branches are killed quickly causing the foliage to wilt and turn black.
A. indica is one of many hosts of the mistletoe Dendrophthoe falcata, which is widely distributed in the Indian subcontinent and the Solomon Islands. A mistletoe of the genus Tapinanthus also infests A. indica and other trees in Nigeria (Pirani, 1994; Luna, 1996), and is capable of killing branches and causing deformity.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
A. indica spreads by seeds and vegetatively by root suckers. The seeds drop from the tree and germinate in their resting place. In Africa, A. indica dispersal has been facilitated by birds and mammals such as baboons, and birds, bats and terrestrial mammals are known to eat the fruits and disperse the seeds throughout the native range. Shifting cultivation and logging practices may have contributed to the spread of A. indica in Ghana by making available open, disturbed land for colonization (Chamberlain, 2000). A. indica is frequently self-sown in gardens and the areas under mature trees are quickly colonized by a carpet of seedlings.
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
Economic ImpactTop of page
In Ghana, A. indica has interfered with agriculture as it rapidly establishes in fallowed fields and makes land unavailable for farming (Chamberlain, 2000).
Environmental ImpactTop of page
A. indica is invading natural areas in the Middle East, Brazil, Dominican Republic, northern Australia and much of sub-Saharan Africa (Kairo et al., 2003; Freire et al., 2013; PROTA, 2014). Large infestations have also been observed in Ghana and elsewhere in West Africa. It is also invasive along the south coast of Kenya and is naturalized in parts of Ethiopia. This species is drought resistant and thrives in sub-arid to sub-humid areas and has become a serious weed in northern Australia where its seeds are spread down by watercourses and by fruit-eating birds.
A. indica colonization is a threat to endemic coastal forests in Kenya (Hamilton A, World Wide Fund for Nature, Godalming, UK, personal communication, 2002) and to endangered dry coastal forest in Ghana where it is of particular concern in relation to rare trees such as Talbotiella gentii (Chamberlain, 2000). Chamberlain (2000) reports the hypothesis that reduction in mammalian abundance and biodiversity in the Accra Plains, Ghana may have occurred in response to A. indica invasion of savannah habitats and changes to natural forest successions. The Australian Government (1998) cites concerns over the potential impacts on native insects, fish and amphibians. This species is invading and outcompeting native vegetation in dry, arid, semiarid ecosystems as well as in riparian zones and coastal bushlands in South America, Africa and the West Indies (Kairo et al., 2003; Freire et al., 2013; PROTA, 2014).
There is evidence that extracts from A. indica can affect certain freshwater wildlife including fish and tadpoles. It also negatively impacts upon biodiversity by excluding native species.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Invasive in its native range
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Has a broad native range
- Abundant in its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Is a habitat generalist
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Pioneering in disturbed areas
- Tolerant of shade
- Highly mobile locally
- Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
- Long lived
- Fast growing
- Has high reproductive potential
- Reproduces asexually
- Altered trophic level
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Modification of hydrology
- Modification of nutrient regime
- Modification of successional patterns
- Monoculture formation
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Soil accretion
- Threat to/ loss of native species
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Competition - shading
- Pest and disease transmission
- Rapid growth
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
- Difficult/costly to control
UsesTop of page
This drought-tolerant species is grown to prevent soil erosion and to help in soil conservation and improvement. In countries from Somalia to Mauritania it is an important tree for helping to prevent the spread of the Sahara Desert (Vietmeyer, 1992). A. indica improves soil fertility and water holding capacity, and can neutralize acidic soils, and therefore it is useful for wasteland reclamation (Webb et al., 1984). It can be grown on saline and alkaline soils with pH of up to 9.8 and with a soluble salt content up to 0.45 % in the subsoil (Singh, 1989). As A. indica is believed to discourage diseases and pests, it is widely planted on homesteads and A. indica is reported to affect more than 200 insect species, as well as some mites, nematodes, fungi, bacteria and viruses. A. indica tends towards a deeply tap-rooted habit in suitable soils, and so competes very little with agricultural crops for scarce soil moisture, and crops such as sorghum grow well close to the trunk. A. indica plantations have also been raised by taungya methods (Hocking, 1993).
The wood is hard and resistant to termites, borers and fungi. A. indica is considered suitable for general purpose plywood, fire retardant plywood and plywood for blockboard. A. indica timber is used for making doors, windows, agricultural implements, carts, axles, yokes, packing cases, ornamental ceilings, fence posts, in ship and boat building, and in furniture, for which its insect repelling properties are useful (Tewari, 1992). Although it has satisfactory strength, it is not a preferred timber for furniture manufacture as it has rough and interlocked grain that does not allow a good finish. However, in recent years, painted furniture made from A. indica wood has become fashionable (Siddiqui, 1995). A. indica provides good fuel, and in Ghana it has become the leading source of fuelwood in the densely populated Accra Plains (Vietmeyer, 1992). It also makes good charcoal.
Traditionally, A. indica is used by rural people for its medicinal properties, and it has a long history of use dating back to the Vedic period of India (approximately 6000 years BP) (Tewari, 1992). In Ayurvedic medicine, the bark and leaves are used for skin diseases, flowers as a tonic and stomachic, and fruits as a purgative and emollient. Various types of organic compounds have been isolated from different parts of the tree. These organic compounds are widely used as medicines and pesticides. Biologically active, volatile organic sulphur compounds are liberated by crushing fresh seeds. As many as 25 volatile compounds have been identified with di-n-propyl-disulfide being the chief constituent. The most active antifeedant in the seed is azadirachtin, found pure as a microcrystalline solid. Stem and root bark has astringent, tonic, antiperiodic and other medicinal properties. The bark, leaves and fruit are used in the treatment of infections and diseases. The bark is bitter, a tonic and an astringent, and has traditionally been used to treat fever, nausea, vomiting and skin diseases. The root bark is more effective in this case than the stem bark and young fruit (Tewari, 1992).
The leaves are an old and popular remedy for skin diseases. The fresh juice of the leaves is administered with salt to treat intestinal worms and with honey for skin diseases and jaundice. As an external application for skin diseases, the leaves are used in variety of forms (poultice, ointment and liniment). A strong decoction of fresh leaves produces an antiseptic which may be used in place of a weak solution of carbolic acid. A hot infusion of the leaves is used for fomenting swollen glands, bruises and sprains, and appears to be an anodyne (Siddiqui, 1995). The fruits act as a purgative and an emollient, and are useful in the control of intestinal worms, urinary tract diseases and piles. The dry seeds possess almost the same properties as the oil when brushed and mixed with water or other liquids. The seed oil is the most important medicinal product of this species from a commercial point of view. It is antiseptic and has proved to be useful in treating skin diseases, ulcers, rheumatism and sprains. The oil saponifies readily and is used in the manufacture of a medicinal soap because of its antiseptic properties. This soap is very effective for washing sores and for general uses similar to those of carbolic soap. The flowers are useful in some cases of atonic dyspepsia and general debility. There are reports that the toddy (fermented sap) of the tree is useful in the care of some chronic diseases.
A. indica provides natural pesticides. In a farm trial in Sind, Pakistan, extracts prepared from A. indica seed had a controlling effect on more than 80% of the major insect pests in stored grain, reducing grain damage for up to 6 months and remaining effective for up to 13 months (Siddiqui, 1995). Techniques have been developed to prepare a ready-to-use pest control material known as neem seed bitters. Application of seed bitters in field trials on rice and cotton in Pakistan has successfully controlled pests. This biopesticide is environmentally safe and cheap (Siddiqui, 1995).
Leaves are used as fodder, mulch and green manure (Streets, 1962; Webb et al. 1984), noted as a good fodder for goats and camels. The leaves are also used as a pot-herb, and are mixed with other vegetables in the preparation of soups and curries, imparting a slightly aromatic and bitter taste (Lemmens et al., 1995). Dried flowers are edible and an essential oil has also been isolated from flowers.
Uses ListTop of page
Animal feed, fodder, forage
- Fodder/animal feed
- Erosion control or dune stabilization
- Shade and shelter
- Soil improvement
Human food and beverage
- Honey/honey flora
- Carved material
- Essential oils
- Miscellaneous materials
- Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
Wood ProductsTop of page
Sawn or hewn building timbers
- Carpentry/joinery (exterior/interior)
- Exterior fittings
- For light construction
Wood extractives (including oil)
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
A. indica is sometimes confused with closely related species of Melia, but an easy distinction can be made between the two genera based on leaf and ovary morphology. Azadirachta spp. have simple pinnate leaves with a pair of orbicular glands and a pair of elongated glands at the base and by the 3-locular ovary, while Melia spp. possess 2- to 3-pinnate leaves with one pair of orbicular glands and a 4- to 8-locular ovary (Lemmens et al., 1995).
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
A. indica seedlings are susceptible to fire whereas mature trees are able to withstand fires (Stoney, 1997). No other control methods have been documented, though it is assumed that seedling removal, or cutting with a stump treatment would be effective in preventing regeneration.
ReferencesTop of page
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ContributorsTop of page
27/06/14 Updated by:
Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA
Pedro Acevedo-Rodríguez, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA
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