THE NEEM TREE, BATS, TWIG TOOTHBRUSHES and AZADIRACHTIN


This is such a fabulous tree. If I could have a single tree in my garden, it would be a Neem Tree. I don’t know where to begin the story.

BEGIN WITH THE BATS, PLEASE.

Fruit bats including the Straw-coloured Flying Fox and the Gambian Epauletted Fruit Bat are known to pollinate Neem Tree flowers. (1)


Straw-coloured flying fox; Eidolon helvum
Photograph: David Liebman, Lubee Bat Conservancy


Animals who like the sweet fruit are also enlisted to help people free the Neem Tree seed of its pulp. People who want to use the seeds leave fallen fruit under the trees. Fruit bats, other mammals and birds will feed on the fruit pulp and leave some of the cleaned seeds behind.(3) That assists the human seed-collectors.

When animals, such as fruit bats, carry the fruit away from the parent tree and leave the seed on the ground, that helps to ensure that more wild Neem Trees will grow protects a very valuable genetic heritage.

Gambian Epauletted Bat
Epomophorus gambianus
Neem Tree Fruit

 

DOES THE NEEM TREE HAVE A LONG HISTORY OF BEING FABULOUS?

Yes, it has been known to be fabulous for a long, long time. The Neem Tree grew first in India. It is mentioned many times for its healing properties in Indian medical writings, the Ayurveda.(3) Those writings date back to 2500 years before the present. (5)

THE NEEM TREE MUST BE WELL KNOWN TO INDIAN FAMILIES.

Yes, from birth until death.

Neem leaves are scattered on the floor before a wedding and the air is fanned with Neem Tree branches.(6)

A newborn baby is fanned with a branch of the Neem Tree.(6)

Neem Tree oil is used to heal childhood injuries and illnesses.

The day begins for many Indian people with a purifying drink of water in which Neem Tree leaves have been left overnight.(2)

Neem Tree oil is used in lamps and to start cooking fires.

Dried beans and rice are stored with Neem Tree leaves or mixed with Neem Tree oil to prevent insects from eating them.(2)

Indian people clean food from their teeth with a Neem Tree twig which helps to prevent cavities and gum disease.(2)

Neem Tree leaves, bark, roots and seeds are used in various preparations to treat every imaginable human illness and injury.(6)

When life ends, the body is covered with Neem Tree branches. Wood from the Neem Tree feeds the flames of the funeral pyre.(6)

The Neem Tree
Part of village life from birth until death

DOES THE NEEM TREE GROW ONLY IN INDIA?

No. It grows very easily from seeds and also from root suckers. It grows well in parts of the world where the soil is poor, dry and salty. The Neem Tree roots do not like wet earth. The Neem Tree is not discouraged by weed companions.(3)


IT WOULD BE NICE TO HAVE A NEEM TREE CLOSE TO YOUR HOUSE.

Yes. Besides the fact you would have a village pharmacy outside your door, you would also have an excellent evergreen shade tree. You would not have to worry about it dying in a drought. You would never have to buy a toothbrush. Just step outside and break off a twig. AND if you lived in the tropics, you would have fruit bat visitors.

A Neem Tree twig toothbrush in action

IS THE NEEM TREE GETTING ATTENTION WORLDWIDE?

Yes, indeed, most emphatically. One scientist of reknown, Noel D. Vietmeyer, National Research Council, said: “I’ve never come across a plant with the potential the Neem has.”(8)

WHY DID THE SCIENTIST SAY THAT?

In 1959 Heinrich Schumutterer, a German entomologist, saw that when there was a plague of leaf-eating locusts in Sudan, the Neem Tree’s leaves weren’t eaten. Other trees were stripped of their leaves.(4)

Research done after that showed that every part of the Neem Tree, especially the seeds, contain azadirachtin which protects plants and stored plant products from being eaten by insects.(2)

The big plus for the use of azadirachtin on plants is that it is not a poison that we have to eat when we eat the plant food. It is also not a poison that birds, spiders, ladybugs and bats have to eat when they eat the insects that have eaten the azadirachtin.(2)

HOW DOES AZADIRACHTIN WORK IF IT DOESN’T POISON THE INSECT PLANT EATERS?

The plant-eating creatures live, but they can no longer lay fertile eggs or have healthy offspring. Or they may no longer be able to eat properly to keep themselves alive, so they die without mating and having more plant-eating offspring.

You can see that azadirachtin is not fast acting. It is not good for an unexpected plague of locusts. Its effects are long term, but at the same time insects are less likely to develop a resistance to it. Insects have developed a resistance many of the pesticides we have used so far.(9)

People who can get Neem Tree seeds can make their own ecology-friendly pesticide. They dry the seeds, grind the kernels, and sprinkle that meal mixed with sawdust on their plants. Or they can mix oil from the seeds in with their stored beans. They can also put Neem Tree leaves in with their stored beans and grains. Doing these things with Neem Tree seeds and leaves will protect a rural family’s crops and stored food. (3)

Protecting young maize plants with Neem Seed meal

 

ARE THERE OTHER USES FOR THE COMPOUNDS FROM THE NEEM TREE?

Yes. Early experiments have shown that compounds in the Neem Tree can kill human cancer cells, can provide effective birth control for men and women, can kill a number of common fungi and have good results in treating diabetes and heart conditions.(2)

WHAT IS EVERYONE WAITING FOR? WHY DON’T WE GET THE MAGIC NEEM TREE PRODUCTS INTO USE?

There are neem-based pesticides already in use.(9) The medicines for humans have to have expensive lengthy tests before they can be put on the market, but there are many neem-based shampoos, soaps available.


IS THAT THE END OF THIS NEEM TREE STORY?

Almost. The wood of the Neem Tree is also outstanding. Termites don’t eat it. Houses and furniture and fences built from Neem Tree wood last a long time.(3)

A bookcase made from Neem Tree wood will protect your books from paper-eating creatures.

Neem Tree branches make good poles. Poles are very important for people in rural parts of the world, especially poles that are not eaten by termites.(3)

The wood of the Neem Tree is an excellent fuel as firewood and charcoal (3), both of which are also very important in rural communities in the developing world.

I CAN’T IMAGINE CUTTING A NEEM TREE DOWN TO BUILD A FENCE OR A FIRE!

People need houses and fences and fires. Luckily the Neem Tree grows readily from seed and grows well in poor conditions.

SURELY THAT IS THE END OF THE NEEM TREE STORY.

This is the last thing I will say about the Neem Tree but it is certainly not the last thing that could be said.

Many people see the most important contribution the Neem Tree can make is in controlling insects that eat man’s food and controlling them in a way that is not poisonous to insects, bats, birds, or us.

One of the insect larvae that destroys corn harvests is the European Corn Borer. Azadirachtin from the Neem Tree has been very effective in tests on European Corn Borer larvae.(3)

When this Neem Tree product is used in corn fields in the southern states of North America, the corn will be receiving double protection from bats.

It will be protected by the fruit bats who pollinate the Neem Tree flowers and disperse the seeds. It will also be protected by insect-eating bats such as the Mexican Free-tailed Bat that are known to catch European Corn Borer moths on the wing.

Those insect-eating bats are eating the moths that lay the eggs that hatch into the larvae that eat the farmer's corn.

Mexican Free-tailed Bat
Tadarida brasilensis Mexicana
Insect-eating Plant Protector

GREAT LOOKING BAT! IS THIS THE END?

Just one last thing, off the subject, but so interesting.

The model for the Mexican Free-tailed Bat above is a bat named Pongo. In 2003 Pongo lived and hunted for moths and other insects somewhere in North America. But one day he ended up in the hold of a trans-Atlantic cargo ship and, finally, on a dock in England. As you can imagine, the tiny bat was very weak and near death from starvation and lack of water.

Pongo's life was saved by the dockworker who reported finding him and the restorative care of a Bat Group member in southeastern England. With the cooperation of veterinarians and government agencies in both Britain and the U.S. and American Airlines, Pongo was sent back to the United States on a flight bound for the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas.

He was met at the airport by U.S. batworkers and taken to Bat World Sanctuary in Mineral Wells, Texas. Because of a wrist injury Pongo did not pass the flight test for release and his active plant-protection days are over. He is living out his days well-fed and in comfortable accommodations with other members of his species. (7)

THIS IS THE END (for now)

 

References:

(1) Fujita, M.S. 1991. Flying Fox (Chiroptera:Pteropodidae) Pollination, Seed Dispersal, and Economic Importance: A Tabular Summary of Current Knowledge, Resource Publication No. 2, Bat Conservation International

(2)Narula, Acharan S., Neem: Tree of 1,000 Uses, Alpha Omega Labs;http://www.altcancer.com/neem1000.htm

(3)Neem Foundation; spearheading the neem revolution;http://www.neemfoundation.org

(4)Rao, Usha, Neem in Agriculture & Healthcare - An Overview;http://www.neemresource.com/NeeminAg&Hlth.pdf


(5)Morgan, Chris, Medicine of the Gods; http://www.compulink.co.uk/~mandrake/ayurveda.htm

(6)Lilot, Loetitia S., The Neem Tree, The Village Pharmacy, Ethnobotanical Leaflets; http://www.siu.edu/~ebl/leaflets/neem.htm

(7)Bat World News, Volume 8, Summer Issue

(8)TheraNeem Organix South, Inc. Discover the Power of Neem - Information (with additional references); http://www.theraneem.com/neem_information.html

(9)Pest Resistance to Pesticides; http://ipm.ncsu.edu/safety/factsheets/resistan.pdf

THE PLANT

Neem Tree

Order: Sapindales
Family: Meliaceae (Mahoganies)
Genus: Azadirachta
Species: Azadirachta indica

 

 

THE BATS*

Straw-coloured Fruit Bat (Eidolon helvum)
Gambian Epauletted Fruit Bat (Epomophorus gambianus)

 

 

Fujita, M.S. 1991. Flying Fox (Chiroptera:Pteropodidae) Pollination, Seed Dispersal, and Economic Importance: A Tabular Summary of Current Knowledge, Resource Publication No. 2, Bat Conservation International

Written and illustrated by Mary Louise Alley-Crosby who thanks Dr. Merlin D. Tuttle of Bat Conservation International, Austin, Texas, for permission to use his photograph of the Gambian Epauletted Fruit Bat as source material, and Amanda Lollar of Bat World Sanctuary, Mineral Wells, Texas, for permission to use her photograph of Pongo,a Mexican Free-tailed Bat, as source material. Thank you also to the Lubee Bat Conservancy for permission to use the photograph of the straw-coloured flying fox.

Updated October 2006

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