Chinese Tallow Tree – Identification

Q: Here is a tree that I grew from a “volunteer” seedling found in my vegetable garden in Florida. It is now approximately five years old. This is the first year I have seen berries present. The bark has reddish undertones. Can you tell me what tree this is?

A: You have a Chinese tallow tree (popcorn tree), Sapium sebiferum (or Triadica sebifera).

When my son was younger, we used to have discussions during car trips about things that were both bad and good.

Me: “Pancakes!”

He: “They’re good to eat but they make the counter all sticky and you’ll throw up if you eat too many!”

You get the drift.

Chinese tallow tree would be a good candidate for our conversations.

As you note, it “volunteers” readily…to the point that it is considered a pest tree by several Southern states. It can take over land that is not cultivated. One gardener recounts spending five years trying to eliminate seedlings and root sprouts from his property.

On the other hand, the seeds and seed pods contain great amounts of waxy oil that can easily be converted to bio-diesel fuel. Chinese tallow tree is second only to oil palm in the amount of oil produced per acre.

Work on making tallow tree more useful and less invasive is centered at Louisiana State University. One promoter’s thoughts are contained here: From Field to Factory to Diesel Tank

I recognize that your tree may not seem invasive in its present spot, but if you value the woodland environment nearby, cut it at ground level and spray glyphosate (click for sources) on the cut stump to prevent resprouting.

You’ll get numerous root sprouts nearby for years afterward. Treat them the same way.

Chinese Tallow Tree

Invasion of the Popcorn Trees

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