The neem tree, known scientifically as Azadirachta indica , is a very tall evergreen tree that is related to mahogany and native to India and other parts of southeast Asia. Due to the tree’s ability to thrive in tropical or arid (desert) climates, it is now grown in many locations, and its ability to grow quickly has been suggested as a possible solution for heavily deforested areas. Additionally, almost every part of the tree has been used by local populations as medicine, pesticide or in food products, and there is evidence of great benefit from these trees.
One of the advantages of the neem tree is its drought resistance, but it does tend to lose most of its leaves in hot and dry weather. However the tree still can grow quickly and at full height these trees can be up to 65 feet (19.81 m) tall, and sometimes twice this high. Neems produce both flowers and fruit, which slightly resemble olives, and this can occasionally cause people to mistake the neem tree with the chinaberry tree. This can be a tragic mistake if chinaberry tree products are used since they are poisonous.
Many may find the thought of growing a neem tree very attractive because of its features, but in many places around the world, it won’t grow well. It needs a very warm climate, especially when young, to thrive. Certain parts of the US like some of the deep Southern US may be suited for growing these plants. In most of the Northern US the climate is simply too cold for the trees to thrive.
There is a potential solution. Given enough light and climate control people can grow a neem tree as a houseplant. It will typically not fruit because it is indoors, but it will be limited in size depending on size of pot used. People can order small trees, seedlings or seeds for this purpose.
A neem tree typically isn’t just grown for decoration in India. The plants serve many important purposes. Oil from the tree can be found in Indian products like soap or it may be used to treat conditions like acne.
Products from A. indica also prove a good insect repellent or pesticide, and trees may be planted to control certain dangerous pests. There’s been some evidence that byproducts in neem leaves may have beneficial effects on those with diabetes, and a paste of the leaves can again be used for acne control. Even the roots were viewed as an important fever reducer in past times, and twigs of the neem have been used as toothbrushes.
As beneficial as neem trees may appear, gardeners need to beware that where the trees thrive, they may overtake other plantings. The trees are considered an aggressive and invasive plant, and any seeds of the tree should be collected. Gardeners should also pull any sprouts of new trees because of their tendency to easily grow.