The Neem tree (Azadirachta Indica) has its origins in India, where it has been revered and put to many uses for at least 3,000 years. Some 200 years ago it spread around the globe with traders, and this resulted in many different varieties. Research and a selective breeding program between the DPI Ayr north Queensland Station and Queensland University has resulted in a variety of tree, based on stock from Mauritius, that is well suited to Australian conditions and will produce fruit prolifically.
It is a member of the mahogany family, and evergreen perennial, fast growing in suitable conditions to a height of 8-17 metres, and a life span of 200-300 years. It has a tap root, will grow on poor soil, survive drought, and the tree litter will improve acid soils. The Neem trees do not like water logged soil or cold and frosty climates. The tree looks similar to an English oak or a native Australian white cedar tree, the leaves and fruit especially resemble those of the white cedar. The flowers are small and white with a light honey aroma, growing as a bunch or spray. The fruit is similar to an olive, with a hard kernel containing up to 50% oil.
Best propagation results are from seed. Planting from tube stock should be done with minimal disturbance to the roots (especially the tap root). Cut off the tube base, put the seedling in place and pull the outer plastic up over the seedling. Ensure adequate water and nutrition for the first two years. When propagating from seed the young trees must be carefully sun hardened before planting out.
Uses Of Neem
The timber is a hard wood, resistant to borers and white ants, ideally suited for fence posts and building material, and in great demand globally. If coppiced it will grow again, the tree is good for revegetation works, being able to flourish in poor and acidic soils, providing good shade, and being compatible with other species. It makes an excellent wind break, and will repel many aggressive insects, so can be planted beneficially with some crops.
Neem Cake Fertiliser
Neem cake is the pulp from the fruit kernel after oil extraction this makes an excellent organic fertiliser, with the bonus of protecting crops from nematodes and other plant eating insects, it also aids in nitrogen retention.
Various parts of the Neem tree have been used for centuries in medicine; ongoing research is underway to determine the usefulness for the treatment of ailments such as, malaria, cancer, aids, arthritis etc. In India Neem is used in soap, cosmetics, antiseptics, toothpaste, gargle, ointments.
Neem is safe for humans, animals, reptiles, birds, bees, earthworms, and fish, yet deadly to insect pests. Teas and chutneys are prepared from Neem products. In many countries Neem twigs are chewed and used to rub the teeth and gums, nature’s toothbrush with in-built medicinal properties. Neem Oil is recommended for external use only.
Pregnant or conceiving woman do not use internally as Neem Oil is highly contraceptive.