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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Chinaberry Damage Probably Carpenter Bee, Not Borers

Q. I have a 25 year old Chinaberry tree that I like because it has aromatic flowers in the spring but I also hate it because it is messy. Parts of the tree recently broke from the wind. There were still lots of leaves on the tree but the inside was dry and dead. How long do these trees live and is what I described normal?

A. Chinaberry is also called Persian Lilac and here in the United States we sometimes call it the Texas Umbrella Tree. I like the tree because of its form, fragrant flowering and fruit clusters but many local horticulturists do not.
Carpenter bee damage to dead palm frond remnants. Note the perfectly round holes the size of a quarter or about 2cm in diameter.
            The leaves and fruit can be poisonous to humans but not to birds. It is a native to parts of Asia where the leaves and fruit have been used as a natural repellent of pests when drying food. The poisonous chemicals inside leaves and fruit are related to the natural pesticide Neem. The tree is a fairly close relative of the Neem tree.
            Just like you said, it can be messy and the wood is brittle and can break easily in the wind. For these reasons, they do not last very long in landscapes.
            The inside of any older tree is all dead wood. It is just the outside cylinder which is alive. Insects that tunnel or build homes in dead wood can cause damage to the tree if they get access to the inside. Wood rotting fungi however is seldom a problem since the wood resists decay. It is also a relative of teak and the wood is actually very pretty.
            Boring insects feed on the living parts of the tree, not the dead parts. However insects such as termites and carpenter bees can utilize the dead wood inside the tree if they can get in there. If they do get in they can weaken the tree further where it will fail in strong winds.
            I have never seen boring insects in this tree but I have seen Carpenter Bee damage to the interior dead wood. If you look closely I would suspect you'll find large holes in the interior wood about the size of a nickel. This is a good sign Carpenter Bees were actively nesting in there.
            You are probably better off replacing the tree with something else.

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