One of the many questions that come up during the recent tours of Historic Steam Pump Ranch, is what kind of tree is that? The Oro Valley Historical Society tour begins at a check-in table just to the west of the tree near what is known as Carlos’s barbeque. The unusual nature of the tree’s seeds prompts the question.
If you guessed a Chinaberry (melia azedarach) tree, you are correct! The Chinaberry is not native to North America. It’s found in East Asia, thus its name, and is part of the mahogany family. It is considered an invasive species. Due to its prolific seed pods and the debris it creates, it is not a good candidate to include in general landscaping. The leaf debris is highly alkaline and can alter the soil below, affecting nearby plantings. The berries are highly toxic to humans if eaten. Though birds like to feast on the berries, they can come away from the tree in a “drunken” state after ingesting too many berries. In the past, before plastic, the seeds were used as beads for rosaries and jewelry. The wood is a high quality and medium dense timber. One other saving grace of the Chinaberry is the lovely star shaped spring blooms and fragrance. So be sure to stop by the ranch when spring has sprung to see the Chinaberry’s show. Oro Valley Historical Society conducts outdoor tours of Steam Pump Ranch on the second and fourth Saturdays in February, March and April from 10 a.m. to Noon. We’ll meet you near the Chinaberry tree!