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Neem (Azadirachta indica, syn. Melia azadirachta L., Antelaea azadirachta (L.) Adelb.) is a tree in the mahogany family Meliaceae. It is one of two species in the genus Azadirachta, and is native to Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, growing in tropical and semi-tropical regions. Other vernacular names include Azad Dirakht (Persian), DogonYaro (Nigerian), Margosa, Neeb (Arabic), Nimtree, Nimba (Sanskrit), Vepu, Vempu, Vepa (Telugu), Bevu in Kannada, Veppam in (Tamil) and Indian-lilac. In East Africa it is also known as Mwarobaini (Kiswahili), what means: the tree of the 40. It is said, that it treats 40 different diseases.
Neem is a fast-growing tree that can reach a height of 15-20 m, rarely to 35-40 m. It is evergreen but under severe drought it may shed most or nearly all of its leaves. The branches are wide spread. The fairly dense crown is roundish or oval and may reach the diameter of 15-20 m in old, free-standing specimens.
The trunk is relatively short, straight and may reach a diameter of 1.2 m. The bark is hard, fissured or scaly, and whitish-grey to reddish-brown. The sapwood is greyish-white and the heartwood reddish when first exposed to the air becoming reddish-brown after exposure. The root system consists of a strong taproot and well developed lateral roots.
The alternate, pinnate leaves are 20-40 cm long, with 20-31 medium to dark green leaflets about 3-8 cm long. The terminal leaflet is often missing. The petioles are short. Very young leaves are reddish to purplish in colour. The shape of mature leaflets is more or less asymmetric and their margins are dentate with the exception of the base of their basiscopal half, which is normally very strongly reduced and cuneate.
The flowers (white and fragrant) are arranged axillary, normally more-or-less drooping panicles which are up to 25 cm long. The inflorescences, which branch up to the third degree, bear 150-250 flowers. An individual flower is 5-6 mm long and 8-11 mm wide. Protandrous, bisexual flowers and male flowers exist on the same individual (polygamous).
The fruit is a glabrous olive-like drupe which varies in shape from elongate oval to nearly roundish, and when ripe are 1.4-2.8 x 1.0-1.5 cm. The fruit skin (exocarp) is thin and the bitter-sweet pulp (mesocarp) is yellowish-white and very fibrous. The mesocarp is 0.3-0.5 cm thick. The white, hard inner shell (endocarp) of the fruit encloses one, rarely two or three, elongated seeds (kernels) having a brown seed coat.
Commercial plantations of the trees are not considered profitable. Around 50,000 neem trees have been planted near Mecca to provide shelter for the pilgrims.
The neem tree is very similar in appearance to the Chinaberry, all parts of which are extremely poisonous.