Neem Tree Growing (Indian Lilac Tree): Planting Tips, ID Neem Leaf, Facts

Person sitting under a neem tree wonders about a growing guide that could include identifying neem flower, seeds, neem oil, neem leaf, neem tree benefits, how to plant and grow neem trees (indian lilac tree) and more.

As avid home gardeners can tell you, Neem oil (derived from the Neem Tree) is an excellent, non toxic way to keep pests off your plants both indoors and out.

Indeed, if you have ever bought a non-toxic pesticide then check the ingredient list, because it probably contains neem or a Neem-based derivative. Neem catastrophically disrupts the hormones, physiology, digestive, and reproductive systems of insects.2

Once exposed to Neem, insects are unable to grow properly, eat, use their digestive system, molt or shed their exoskeletons, and initiate sexual propagation; Neem can actually sterilize some insects as well. Neem is an ancient and long-living tree that was used by ancient humans for a myriad of traditional medical purposes.

In developing countries stretching from Africa to Asia neem is considered an all-natural panacea that cures a multitude of ailments. While neem and processed neem ingredients are used in many dental, soap, and hygiene products in the West, and the plant is being aggressively studied by scientists to develop potential treatments and cures, there is currently no scientific evidence that Neem has any verifiable medicinal benefits.3

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t grow your own Neem Tree (also known as Indian Lilac Tree) and reap the benefits of this beautiful and amazing tree species.

Indian Lilac Tree, Neem Tree, Margosa, Nimtree

(Azadirachta indica)

Neem tree in an oval frame on green background.
  • Characteristics: Neem has delicate-looking, dark-green colored pinnate leaves attached to thin branches by even thinner stems called petioles. Neem leaves are basically feather-shaped. The flowers bloom as drooping panicles; the flowers may look like clusters of flower-like buds or springs or thin almost Lotus-like flower petals.
  • Family: Meliaceae
  • Genus: Azadirachta
  • Leaf: Dark-green colored, narrow, pinnate, and feather-shaped leaves.
  • Bark: Dour grey-colored outer bark on top of a reddish brown-colored underbark.
  • Seed: Neem seeds are about half an inch to two-thirds of an inch long and are very narrow. They are white seeds that are covered by a greyish-brown or brown-colored seed shell and aesthetically resemble tiny, thin, and underdeveloped almonds.
  • Blossoms: Neem blossoms in Spring, usually through the Spring months of May through early June.
  • Fruit: Neem fruit is a yellow or green drupe with whitish-yellow or white-colored flesh.
  • Native Habitat: Neem may have origins in ancient Burma, but its native habitat is now South Asia, especially in India, and Southeast Asia.
  • Height: This tree can grow to a height of 50 feet to 66 feet and some species can grow as tall as 131 feet, which is rare.
  • Canopy: Neem usually has a 65 feet canopy spread
  • Type: Evergreen perennial
  • Native Growing Zone: USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 10 and 11

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Image Credit: Miekks22

How To Identify Neem Tree

A typical Indian lilac tree can reach a height of around 50 feet to 66 feet tall. Depending on the environment and how well you take care of it, some Azadirachta indica species can grow as tall as 131 feet.1

The trunk of most Neem trees is about a foot or two in diameter and usually features dull grey-colored bark that covers a reddish-brown inner bark layer. It’s an evergreen perennial, so its leaves fall only in cold weather when it’s stressed or damaged.

Graphics of Neem Tree identification chart with images of its flower, fruit, leaf, seed, and bark in oval frames.

Azadirachta indica species grow roots that deeply penetrate the soil in search of water and nutrients. Whenever the tree is severely and adversely water-stressed in drier climates, even by drought-tolerant plant species standards, or more specifically whenever the roots are damaged or hit underground obstacles, the roots nearest the surface will produce suckers.

Suckers are shoots or tiny stem-like sprouts that rise up from the roots near the root ball of the tree. Suckers can grow and progressively produce their own roots and sometimes even become their plants separate from the tree they sprouted from; they technically become clones of the original tree.

A sucker is a sprout or slim branch of new growth at the root or base of the plant. Suckers are often able to put out their own roots and become new plants that are clones, genetically identical to the parent plants.

While you should try to grow Azadirachta indica under optimal conditions, you can recognize the plant by the fact that it can thrive in drought conditions. As long as Azadirachta indica is grown in temperatures above 40 degrees temperatures it will practically grow despite you.

Due to the fact that Azadirachta indica is considered an invasive weed species in many regions of the world because of these traits, the tree can be seen as a weed by others if the owner does not take precautions to space it away from other plants and structures.

Neem Leaf (Neem Leaves)

The leaves of Azadirachta indica are green or dark green in color, broadly narrow, feather-shaped, and oppositely pinnate. Azadirachta indica leaves are connected to very thin stem-like branches that mostly resemble twigs.

Closeup shot of a Neem tree showing branches and green leaves attached to thin stems.

(Image: Ajit Ampalakkad18)

Azadirachta indica leaves can also be described as being broadly narrow, feather-shaped, and having serrated, sawtooth edges. These leaves are also prone to curl and droop aesthetically in proximal contrast to their thin branch connections.

Azadirachta indica leaves kind of look like the branches and leaves of a slender branch plant growing from a traditional tree.

Neem Flower

Neem flowers ostensibly bloom and manifest as drooping panicles. A panicle is a loosely branching cluster of flowers with almost bud-like aesthetics.

Neem flowers fully manifest with five-point petals that kind of resemble thin lotus leaves. Neem flowers are very fragrant and smell like honey.

Neem Seeds

Neem seeds are white but are covered in a grey, greyish-brown, brown, or deep-hued brownish-red shell. Neem seeds kind of resemble elongated and irregularly shaped almonds.

They are very narrow in width and about one-half inch to about just under an inch long.

Azadirachta Indica (Indian Lilac Tree)

Azadirachta indica is an ancient that is in the same scientific family classification as the mahogany tree, Meliaceae.17 Although many experts believe that the neem plant species probably originated in ancient Burma, others might say Bangladesh or India, so no one knows for sure.

Ancient species of Azadirachta indica were probably misclassified and confused with other species, so the exact species origin of the Indian lilac tree is probably lost to the fog of history.

Azadirachta indica was first scientifically identified and published in a paper as its own distinct species in 1830.1 Azadirachta is a word coined from ancient Persian terms that roughly translates to “noble tree” and “free tree of India.”1

Those terms are a reference to the fact that Azadirachta indica is a virtually pest and disease-resistant plant.1 Technically speaking, there have been scientifically documented reports of Azadirachta indica tree species being attacked and killed in Nigeria and some parts of Africa by termites, pests, and some plant diseases; however, even those scientific reports admitted these Azadirachta indica specimens were sickly and growing under severe circumstances in African climates.11

So, that means if you endeavor to grow Neem you will never have to worry about common pests of the Neem tree, natural pest control for Neem tree, how to stop Neem tree disease, or developing Neem tree disease prevention strategies.

Scientifically Verified Azadirachta Indica Benefits

It is suggested that you do not ingest or topically use Azadirachta indica plant leaves, bark, or twigs for homemade traditional purposes. Consuming more than 5 ounces of Azadirachta indica oil at once or incrementally over a sustained short-term period can cause toxic irreversible health problems.

Photo of a left hand holding a pile of Neem leaves.

(Image: Forest and Kim Starr20)

Additionally, if you checked the ingredients on your dental, skin, and soap products, Neem may already be a main ingredient. Neem may be labeled as “Neem leaf” or “Neem bark extract” as an ingredient in such products.

Neem is considered safe for use in products when it is used with a multitude of other ingredients. In developing countries, Neem leaves, barks, and twigs are used as makeshift toothbrushes and dental care products.

You might be able to use Neem bark extract gel or neem bark orally for dental hygiene as long as you use less than 60 mg each day for 10 weeks.3 Neem oil could be topically applied to the skin as a skin care product for 14 days.

Neem contains a myriad of chemicals still being studied by scientists that have been proven to heal ulcers in the intestines, reduce heightened blood sugar levels, stop the buildup of dental plaque, and kill bacteria.3 Unfortunately, while Neem is being scientifically studied to potentially treat cancer and other ailments and may show some promise in the future, it is very toxic and dangerous to directly consume unprocessed in large doses.12

Your primary reason for growing Neem trees is to process your own homemade nontoxic pesticides. Neem oil is scientifically proven to kill or physiologically disrupt over 200 different species of insects, including but not limited to cockroaches, head lice, fleas, mosquitoes, aphids, Colorado Potato beetle, Japanese beetle, Sorghum Shoot fly, Red Flour beetle, Cabbage looper, leafminer, mealy bugs, boll weevil, fire ant, and more.2

The organic chemicals in neem inhibit and stop the maturation and development of eggs, larvae, and pupae, compel females to not lay eggs, constrict and block the digestive systems of insects, and stop them from feeding, making insects incapable of molting, and even sterilizes adult insects.2

Possible Neem Tree Benefits

Plant parts from Azadirachta indica have been used for alternative medical practices like Ayurveda, called a pseudoscience in the Western world, for over 2,000 years.12 Over 80 percent of the citizens in India and Nepal are Ayurveda adherents and rely on Azadirachta indica for numerous traditional and home medical practices.1

Azadirachta indica is an invaluable resource to everyday people in parts of South and Southeast Asia, especially in India. In India, Neem flowers are eaten in food, and neem leaves and twigs are used as makeshift toothbrushes.

Neem tree benefits such as food, for oral health, general health, and skin care shown in a graphic.

Indians make toothpaste, soap, and antibacterial out of neem oil extracted from crushed Neem seeds. Every part of the Neem plant is used to make household remedies in India.13

Components from Neem trees are used to help reduce fevers, kill intestinal parasites, and fight viruses, as an antiacid, antifungal, antioxidant, clear skin problems, and much more.13 Many in India believe that neem can help treat cancer.13

While the respects and beliefs of other cultures should be respected according to the norms in their countries respective to Neem, you should be aware that while extensive scientific studies are being performed on Neem in the West, there is no proof or data that neem can cure any of the previously mentioned medical issues.

Real World Azadirachta Indica Drawbacks and Hazards

Neem, especially neem oil, is scientifically proven to cause liver and kidney damage and even cause miscarriages.1,3 Pregnant women are advised to never consume neem.

Neem could worsen symptoms if you have an autoimmune disease or cause infertility.3 If you have had an organ transplant, then neem could make you infertile.

If you are taking medication for any serious medical issue, then you should not consume raw or processed neem.3 If you process your own neem oil to create your own homemade nontoxic pesticide then be sure to secure its access from young children and animals and never consume it.

What Does Neem Oil Do?

What must be stressed is that consuming any part of the Neem plant is not recommended. While some parts of the plant, like the flower can be consumed, Neem is toxic to humans and causes catastrophic medical issues when consumed in amounts greater than five ounces.1

Diluted Neem oil sprayed on home gardens and industrial crops is non-toxic to humans because it evaporates within days when exposed to ultraviolet rays.4 This inconvenient fact is why most corporate pesticide companies don’t invest in large-scale neem tree farms; it’s because synthetic pesticides, while extremely toxic to humans, are longer lasting and more financially practical to use for their profit margins.

Most gardeners don’t know or don’t fully appreciate how destructive the use of toxic pesticides is to the environment or human physiology. The EPA openly states that the industrial pesticides used in the agricultural system have been proven to use chemicals that can cause cancer, damage the endocrine system and nervous system, or act as inflammatory irritants to the exterior or interior of human physiology.5

However, most people only ingest small amounts of these pesticides and are only at risk of harm relative to how much pesticide-coated fruits or veggies they consume after off-gassing. Industrial pesticides are sprayed on crops during various stages of their growth.

Sometimes, farmers have to store pesticide-coated crops for days or weeks until the pesticides evaporate or weaken in toxicity levels before they can be sold commercially. The CDC confirms that over 20,000 agricultural workers in the United States are poisoned by industrial pesticides annually by spraying them on crops or handling crops coated with high levels of potently toxic pesticides that have not been off-gassed yet.6

Some experts believe that anywhere between 2 million and 5 million agricultural workers globally are poisoned by industrial pesticides, with over 40,000 dying as a result.7 However, the use of pesticides seems to be a necessary evil that corporations have yet to find a safe solution for due to the expense.

Anywhere between 20 percent and over 40 percent of the world’s crops are lost to plant-based pests, plant diseases, and weeds.8 Without pesticides, the human race would have a lot less food to consume annually; however, that is no justification for the proliferation and use of industrial pesticides which sickens agricultural workers and consumers.

You might be using commercial pesticides for your garden that are purposely mislabeled as “non-toxic,” “environmentally safe,” or containing “inactive ingredients.” The EPA allows over 18,000 industrial pesticide products to be sold commercially in the USA and mislabeled as containing “inert” or “inactive ingredients” even though the products are extremely toxic due to legal loopholes.9

The United States Government forced a notable pesticide corporation to pay over $12.5 million in criminal and civil fines for knowingly selling and mislabeling toxic pesticide products as non-toxic.10 The point here is that you can plant neem and enjoy homemade neem oil benefits as a truly organic and non-toxic pesticide on your own terms.

Neem Oil Dilutions

Its dilution and the fact that neem oil evaporates in ultraviolet sun rays prevent it from becoming toxic to humans. You will have to respray your garden, plants, and trees with your homemade neem oil spray every three or four days, but your garden will stay protected and you will never have to buy toxic pesticides again.

Neem works as a natural pesticide against almost all known plant-based pests. While it won’t be as effective as homemade neem oil spray, you could put neem leaves and branches in spots around your home where you think pests are congregating as a pest repellant.

Neem, also known as the Indian lilac tree due to its cultural use and adoption in India, is also great for use as a shade tree and erosion control due to the fact that the tree grows deep and entrenched roots. Neem is extremely drought resistant and as long as you don’t grow it in temperatures under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and with 35 degrees Fahrenheit as the minimum limit, the tree will grow in almost any soil well-draining soil medium with very little water.

Neem is almost a Terminator-like plant because it will always try to cling to life. Neem is known for coppicing, a process in which a tree will regenerate itself and regrow from sheared limbs or tree stumps.

Azadirachta indica is considered to be an invasive weed species in Africa, the Middle East, Australia, and numerous island states within Oceania and the Indian Ocean.1 Out of all these Neem tree facts, be mindful of the fact that the tree has deep-growing roots that can damage underground utility infrastructures, sidewalks, and foundations.

Such trees should be planted 10 feet or more from other plants and infrastructure. Neem trees can live for over 200 years, so do your research before planting one.11

As long as you take these precautions, you can plant the Indian lilac tree and produce your own non-toxic pesticide for your garden on your terms. Firstly, here is some basic data about the Indian lilac tree.

Growing a Neem Tree From a Seed, Cutting, Seedling

Whether you grow Neem from a seed, cutting, or seedling, it is a relatively easy thing to accomplish as a gardener. Neem seeds should be freshly removed from their drupe pits.

The fresher they are before planting, the better they will grow. Neem seeds do not stay viable for planting purposes for long periods of time and their odds of germinating are reduced significantly the longer they go unused.

You should use Neem seeds for planting that were freshly removed from their drupes at least 14 to 21 days before planting. Even under the most optimum conditions, neem seeds can only be stored for anywhere between two months to six months before they irretrievably lose their viability to germinate.11

Photo of Neem seeds on a palm showing rich soil on its background.

(Image: Paryavarana Margadarsi Vaisakhi19)

As long as you use fresh neem seeds before planting, the germination success rate can be anywhere between 75 percent to over 90 percent.14 Plant one neem seed in a pot filled with some quality soil mixed with a little fertilizer.

While this is not entirely necessary, every little bit can help with the germination process. Plant the seed about an inch under the surface.

Water the soil once or twice a week so that it is soaked, but never moist. It should germinate within 14 to 21 days.

Neem trees grow at a rapid pace so while you transfer it to a bigger pot it won’t be long before you will need to transplant it outdoors. Fertilize it monthly until it becomes a sapling.

Once Neem becomes a young tree it does not necessarily need fertilizer because neem is an extremely drought-resistant plant that can thrive in low-moisture soil conditions. They become drought-tolerant trees as they age.

Growing a Neem tree from a cutting or growing a Neem tree from a seedling is a very straightforward process. Start a Neem cutting in a large flower pot with a soilless medium like coconut coir or sterile rooting compost.

Water it once or twice a week to keep the soil medium moist for a few weeks until the cutting is developed enough to be transplanted outdoors. Transplanting a young neem tree is probably your best option to jumpstart the growth process relatively faster.

Plant the Neem sapling in a hole that is a little wider than the root ball in soil mixed with a little compost or fertilizer. Fill in the hole and gently stamp down the soil with a shovel or the bottom of your shoe.

Best Growing Conditions for Neem Tree

Here are some basic planting tips for neem tree development. The neem species are not the types of trees that need a lot of care.

They are notorious for being invasive and surviving on as little water as possible. If you want to keep your Indian lilac tree as healthy as possible to ensure a steady supply of drupes and seeds to convert into neem oil annually then you will have to take good care of your tree.

But you also don’t want to be too generous in taking care of it because its root system could become sprawling and deeply invasive or the tree could grow to become 100+ feet tall. Make sure that you live in a region where the outside temperature doesn’t drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Otherwise, you will have to settle for growing smaller Neem trees and plants in a greenhouse or indoors. Make sure that the soil is well draining when you grow a tree like Neem.

What are the watering needs for neem trees? Watering a tree like a Neem requires you to use some specific watering strategies.

When your Neem tree is established as a young tree you can water it once a week until the soil is moist. However, unlike the germination process, you can let the soil completely dry out before watering it again; neem trees are very drought sensitive and it will be OK.

Add the fertilizer of your choice to the soil once a month for two seasons out of the year, Summer and Spring. Follow these tips and your neem’s leaves and drupes should always look healthy and grow bountifully.

Photo of the top portion of the Neem Tree showing its leaves and small branches.

(Image: Anand Nav21)

How much sunlight does neem tree need each day? Neem requires at least six hours of direct sunlight exposure to grow optimally, but it will also grow just as well in indirect sunlight.

How long does it take for a tree to grow? The typical tree can take as long as 10 years to grow optimally.

How long it takes to grow neem tree? It could take anywhere between three to five years before your neem tree begins to bear fruit, however, it will take a decade before it fully matures.

When to plant neem tree for the best yield? Neem trees thrive in warm or hot but arid weather, so late Spring or Summer are the best times to grow neem.

How far apart to plant neem tree for best results? Unless you have a lot of land to comfortably plant neem trees then you should not plant more than one or two of them on your properties.

Neem trees can grow invasively and uncontrollably in the right circumstances. You should grow neem at least 10 feet, and preferably more from other plants, trees, and unground or surface structures.

While adding mulching around trees is a good idea in some circumstances, you don’t really need to add mulch around the base of an Indian lilac tree. While it is also true that tree pollination is necessary for many species, neem does not really require pollination.

Neem Tree Growing Zone

What are the best growing zones for neem trees? Where to grow for optimum results? The best USDA Plant Hardiness Zones to grow neem is in zones 10 and 11.

Neem does not grow well in weather below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in any other USDA planting zones then you should have a greenhouse or grow it as a plant indoors.

Neem Tree Growth Rate

Azadirachta indica grows aggressively relative to its ambient environmental conditions. Neem grows very slowly for the first year, but can then grow anywhere between three to eight annually based on how well you care for it.

Does Neem Grow Aggressively?

You should strategically decide where to plant neem before growing so that it does not become an aggressive and invasive weed to other plant life or disrupt the integrity of nearby infrastructures. Neem has the ability to coppice, which means that it will sprout new growth from a lopped or sheared limb site or a cut neem trunk.

Neem tree growth rate graphic showing the height of Neem tree relative to its age.

Leave a neem trunk in the ground and new growths or a completely new young tree could spring from out of that trunk within a few year short years.

Companion Plants For Growing Neem Tree

Neem is considered an invasive weed that grows deeply invasive roots that search for water and resources. Neem roots near the soil grow suckers when water-stressed or damaged to essentially clone itself.

It is not a good idea to grow companion plants anywhere near neem. Grow neem at least 10 feet or more from other plants and trees.

How To Make Your Own Neem Oil Pesticide

Neem oil is an oil that you can extract from neem drupe seeds. Dilute a tablespoon of neem oil into a small water bottle and you have a fully organic and nontoxic herbicide and fungicide.

Neem oil degrades and evaporates in ultraviolet light, so you will have to reapply it by spraying it on plants every week or biweekly. In developing countries, drupes are air-dried or left for birds to eat so they will then spit out the seeds.

It takes about one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds of dried neem seeds to produce about 5 ounces of neem oil. Air dry the drupes to allow for easier seed removal.

You could also technically leave the drupe flesh on but you will have to finely crush each drupe and especially the seeds finely in a mortar. While wearing gloves you then put the mashed drupe and drupe seed pulp into a large container.

Add a little water and massage and knead the neem drupe and seed mash like it was dough. It should take on a brownish-colored and sticky consistency.

Put the neem mash, known as neem cake, into a large muslin cloth. Then, slowly twist the neem cake inside the cloth over a bucket.

Twist it slowly and neem oil should slowly begin to trickle out of the slowly squeezed neem cake. Slowly add twisting pressure via the muslin cloth until the neem oil stops dripping.

The leftover dried neem cake can be used as fertilizer. Always secure neem oil so that it can never be accidentally ingested; neem oil is extremely toxic to humans and pets.

Neem oil ingestion in amounts higher than 5 ounces can cause miscarriages, encephalopathy, liver and kidney failure, blood vessel tightening, and worse.15 If you’re tired of paying for toxic pesticides then consider growing neem to source its fruits to create neem oil and make your own nontoxic pesticide.

The best part is that as long as you follow the directions in this guide, a neem tree will grow with little maintenance and input from you as well.

Frequently Asked Questions About Neem Tree

How Many Neem Drupes Can Be Grown Annually?

If you take care of your neem tree it will bear you a lot of fruit annually. The typical neem tree can produce over 110 pounds of drupes annually.11

Can the Leaves and Twigs of Neem Trees Be Used as a Pesticide?

You can place neem leaves and twigs and cupboards, cabinets, and drawers to repel pests. However, neem leaves and twigs are not as effective as neem oil when being used as a pesticide.

Can Neem Drupes Be Used To Make Tea?

You can dry neem drupes and use them to make tea. Neem flowers are also thought to be edible as well, however, until Western science performs more studies on neem fruit and flowers, you probably should not be eating them.

Does Neem Sequester a Lot of Carbon?

How much carbon does neem tree sequester? The neem tree is officially classified as a tree, not a shrub, additionally, the typical tree can sequester, or naturally absorb, almost 50 pounds of carbon dioxide from the ambient atmosphere.16


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11National Research Council (US) Panel on Neem. (1992). 3 The Tree. In Neem: A Tree For Solving Global Problems. National Academies Press (US). Retrieved December 16, 2023, from <>

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13Wylie, M. R., & Merrell, D. S. (2022, May 30). The Antimicrobial Potential of the Neem Tree Azadirachta indica. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 13 – 2022. Retrieved December 16, 2023, from <>

14SF Gate Contributor. (2021, June 17). Neem Propagation. Week&. Retrieved December 16, 2023, from <>

15Wikipedia. (2023, September 24). Neem oil. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 16, 2023, from <>

16Stancil, J. M. (2015, March 17). The Power of One Tree – The Very Air We Breathe. USDA. Retrieved December 16, 2023, from <>

17Wikipedia. (2023). Meliaceae. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 22, 2023, from <>

18Photo 158794607 (Neem) Photo by Ajit Ampalakkad / CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. Resized and changed format. iNaturalist. Retrieved January 5, 2024, from <>

19Collection of (Azadirachta indica) Neem seeds for the preparation of Seed balls in Visakhapatnam. Photo by Paryavarana Margadarsi Vaisakhi. CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International. Cropped and Resized. From <>

20starr-120702-7876-Azadirachta_indica-leaves-USDA_Plant_Materials_Center-Molokai. Photo by Forest and Kim Starr. CC BY 2.0 DEED | Attribution 2.0 Generic. Cropped and Resized. From <>

21Neem tree with birds inside always. Photo by Anand Nav. CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic. Cropped and Resized. From <>

22Neem Tree India Photo by Miekks / CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. Resized and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved December 22, 2023, from <>