This post relates to the Native Trees of Pakistan series. In this post, I am featuring Azadirachta indica.
Azadirachta indica, locally known as Neem tree, is one of the iconic trees of tropical and semi-tropical regions of South Asia. This fast-growing and evergreen tree can be seen widely in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Malaysia growing in gardens, forests, lawns, backyards and along streets. The earliest history of Azadirachta indica can be traced back to Sanskrit writings that are over 4,000 years old.
Benefits of Neem
Long before, its chemical and medical value was proven scientifically, Neem has been a major ingredient of a number of traditional remedies and herbal medicines. It is a natural alternative to synthetic pesticides. It controls more than 195 insects and even impacts pests that are resistant to synthetic pesticides. Being an excellent environment-friendly insect killer, Neem tree is now commercially grown in many countries.
Twig of Neem is used as a tooth brush in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. The oil extracted from the seeds and kernel of the Neem tree is used in the manufacturing of cosmetics such as soaps, shampoos, balms, and creams. Neem is used in treatment of many skin diseases and infections including acne and chicken pox.
Neem tree has tremendous capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and purify the air, making it a perfect tree for lawns and backyards. Neem tree can adjust to climatic changes easily, for this reason, it is also used in reforestation projects where it grows quickly and lasts long.
Other medicinal uses of Neem tree include treatment of allergic reactions, blood sugar in diabetic patients, herpes, heart diseases, hepatitis, fungal infection, malaria, psoriasis, and ulcer. Extracts of Neem tree are also scientifically proven to enhance the immune system.
The timber of Neem tree is a substitute for true mahogany, because it is heavy and similarly red in color. The timber is used in used in the making of carts, agricultural tools, bridges and boats.
Growing Habits of Neem Tree
Neem tree grows in full to partial sun and prefers a well-drained soil mix. The tree can be propagated from seeds, cuttings or suckers. Young plants should be watered well during summer allowing the soil to dry between watering. Restrict watering during winter. Neem tree makes a tall and well branched tree. It can also be pruned to make a symmetrical shape. The tree can grow as tall as 50 – 60 feet and as wide as 4 feet.
Neem tree produces abundance of foliage and clusters of white, fragrant flowers. Flowering is followed by olive-like fruits. Because of resembling leaves, fruits and branching habit, sometimes, Melia Azedarach or Chinaberry is mistakenly identified as Neem tree. They both belong to the Meliaceae family but Melia Azedarach cannot substitute Neem tree. Unlike the fruits of Neem tree, drupes that grow on Melia Azedarach are poisonous.