At this time of year the berries of the bead tree, Melia azedrach, become very obvious after the leaves have fallen. This species is native to south-east Asia but has adapted well to Mediterranean conditions and grows widely in parks and gardens here. Today I had a close look at a row of the trees growing in the car park in the village of Laurens. The golden berries, turning to white as the winter progresses, look lovely against the clear blue sky we commonly have at this time of year, however cold it gets (although it was very warm today).
Also known as the chinaberry tree or cape lilac, the bead tree name comes from the use of the seeds to make rosary beads before plastic was widely used. I found some of the berries on the ground and brought them home to extract the seed from one of them. I was careful to wash my hands well after handling the berries as they are poisonous, and the leaves of the tree are described as ‘highly poisonous’. Inside the thin flesh of the berry, the seed did look like a small bead: