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Invasive, Exotic Plants of the Southeast


Chinese Tallow Tree

Chinese Tallow Tree

Chinese Tallow Tree

Common Name: Chinese Tallow Tree, Popcorn Tree

Scientific Name: Sapium sebiferum

Identification: Chinese Tallow Tree is a deciduous tree that may reach 60 feet in height and 3 feet in diameter.  The tree has alternately whorled, heart-shaped leaves with a pointed tip.  The bark is light gray and fissured.  Slender, drooping spikes up to 8 inches long appear from April to June.  No petals are present but the sepals are yellowish-green.  Three lobed capsules appear from August to January and release 3 white, wax-coated seeds resembling popcorn.  A single, mature tree produces up to 100,000 seeds.

Ecology: Chinese Tallow Tree is a rapidly growing tree that colonizes by root sprouts and seeds that are spread by wind, water, and birds.  The tree invades riverbanks and upland sites and is shade and flood tolerant.  The tree was first introduced from China into SC in the 1700s.

Plant Control: Cut down large trees with a chainsaw and treat outer two inches of cut surface of stump with undiluted glyphosate concentrate (53.8% preferable). Large saplings can be treated in a similar fashion, taking care to treat the entire cut surface.  If glyphosate does not provide good control then you may have to resort to a triclopyr-based product.  To avoid having to purchase a large quantity of a triclopyr concentrate such as Garlon, you may want to buy a pint or quart container of Brush-B-Gon Poison Ivy Killer or a similar product at the hardware or home supply warehouse. Check the label and make sure you get the 8% triclopyr concentrate rather than the ready-to-use spray.  If seed capsules are present on cut limbs, collect and bag these and dispose of in heavy garbage bag so they do not spread.  Monitor for seedlings and control as needed.
Alternative Native Species: Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)

When using herbicides remember to follow label-recommendations.  Any mention of trade, products, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by North Carolina State University.

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