Photographer: Thomas Ellis, Jr. Affiliation: Alabama Forestry Planning Committee Source: Bugwood.org Copyright: (CC BY 3.0)
Photographer: Chris Evans Affiliation: Illinois Wildlife Action Plan Source: Bugwood.org Copyright: (CC BY-NC 3.0)
Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera) is a popular ornamental tree used in gardens in the southeast U.S. It averages 20 feet in height and is typically considered a small to medium sized tree, but some trees reach heights of 40 to 50 feet. Chinese tallow is fast growing with broad ovate leaves that change colors in the fall, which increases its popularity in home gardens. Chinese tallow is a flowering plant that attracts bees and other insects. Fruit forms on the tree and ripens in late August until November.
Chinese tallow trees are able to withstand periods of drought because of a deep taproot. Native plant species are out-competed for resources once the Chinese tallow becomes established in an area. With an ability to utilize minimal water sources from deep taproots and an affinity for growing in crowded places, native plant species are quickly eradicated from areas with Chinese tallow. Leaves and fruit of Chinese tallow is toxic to humans and cattle. If ingested by humans, severe nausea and vomiting occurs.
Seed dispersal of Chinese tallow is facilitated by water and birds that feed on the fruit of the plant. Large mature Chinese tallow plants are capable of producing up to 100,000 seeds, which are spread most commonly by birds, facilitating further establishment of the plant.
The Chinese tallow was introduced to the U.S. in the 1700's for ornamental purposes. Since its introduction, it has also been used for making soap and seed oil. Chinese tallow has become well established since it's introduction and displaced several native species of plants.
U.S. Habitat: Within the U.S. Chinese tallow can be in found in a variety of habitats usually along roadsides or streams. Chinese tallow doesn't have sun requirements and can be found in full sun to complete shade. Water sources near Chinese tallow can be high in saline content or swampy and the invasive tree will survive.
U.S. Present: AL, AR, CA, FL, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, TX
The two recommended native alternatives to the Chinese tallow that can be used successfully as ornamental trees are the Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) and the red mulberry (Morus rubra).
Preventative measures are the most important for managing Chinese tallow. If Chinese tallow is found on your property, do not move the plant. It is important to remove plants and seeds in effort to completely eradicate the plant. Seedlings can be removed manually prior to maturity to prevent reestablishment of Chinese tallow. Mature trees can be removed using a chainsaw by cutting the tree as close to the soil as possible. Burning or mowing can be used for mature Chinese tallow and seedlings. Chemical treatment can be effective in the form of foliar treatments in the Fall prior to seed release. To prevent re-growth on cut stumps a 20% solution of triclopyr has been proven effective.
Burks, K.C. 1996. Adverse effects of invasive exotic plants on Florida's rare native flora. Resource Manage. Notes 8(1):15-16.
Jubinsky, G. 1995. Chinese Tallow (Sapium sebiferum). Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Aquatic Plant Management. Pub. No. TSS-93-03. 12 pp.
Langeland, K.A. and K. Craddock Burks. 1998. Identification and Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas. IFAS Publication SP 257. University of Florida, Gainesville. 165 pp.