It’s odd how the internet seems to trend different topics at recurring moments. We were deluged with calls when this video came out in 2013,* questioning whether we grew the REAL neem, Azadirachta indica. It started again last week for some reason.
We’re still not sure how this very learned Ayurvedic doctor separated neem – Azadirachta indica – from Melia azedarach since colors can vary widely from one plant to another depending upon how much light and fertilizer they’re getting. We actually grow both — a Melia azedarach sprouted as a weed but we let it grow to show people how much they really look alike even though they’re very different.
The most important distinguishing element that Dr. Chauhan described was the lack of a terminal leaf (one single leaf at the end of the stem) on Azadirachta indica that was found on Melia azedarach. Going through our greenhouse with a camera, most of our neem trees do have terminal leaves. However, there were dozens that had leaf stems with and without terminal leaves – on the same plant.
Melia azedarach (or chinaberry in the southern US) also had stems with and without terminal leaflets. Reading through descriptions on other websites, there are some clear differences:
- Azadirachta indica has white flowers and fruits with a single seed. Melia azedarach has purple or lilac colored flowers and fruit with multiple seeds.
- Melia azedarach is highly toxic, including both its leaves and fruit, and is often used as a natural pesticide.
- Melia azedarach is also significantly more cold-tolerant, with states as far north as Oklahoma listing it as invasive.
The trees we’re growing now originally came from India in the early 1990s, and we’ve had dozens of Ayurvedic doctors visit over the years and confirm that we actually grow Azadirachta indica. Our neem trees have little white flowers and fruit with a single large seed. We’ve been eating the leaves off our trees for running up on 25 years ourselves and feeding them to our dogs. And, we can attest with some dismay, that they do not tolerate temperatures below freezing well.
One other important note – researchers at the Mayo Clinic * have done four studies on neem – three of them used fresh leaf from our farm.
Here are some photos highlighting the differences – and the similarities. This photo taken Friday in my greenhouse shows the lack of terminal leaf on the left but terminal leaves on both leaf stems on the right.
The University of Florida actually took a better picture of a Melia azedarach than I could find in my backyard. Note that all the leave stems on a tree identified by expert botanists have terminal leaves.
It’s really is very difficult to tell the difference unless you’re looking at both plants, but Azadirachta indica leaves are much glossier than Melia Azedarach leaves, which aren’t “furry” per say but definitely have less sheen.
- Statements made on sites linked to this article have not been approved by the FDA. Neem Tree Farms does not sell products which are intended to diagnose, cure, treat, prevent or cure any disease.