Practical information to identify and manage non-native, invasive plants and animals
The Quiet Invasion:
A Guide to Invasive Species of the Galveston Bay Area
Chinese tallow tree, popcorn tree
Triadica sebifera

USDA Symbol:TRSE6
ITIS TSN:28397
Presence:Current Invaders
Habitat:Terrestrial
Native Range:China
Toxic Characteristics
Leaves, fruits, and sap are toxic to livestock, most animals, and humans. Known to cause intestinal distress. Some birds are known to tolerate the fruits.
Geographic Distribution
Naturalized across the southeastern U.S. from North Carolina to Texas, and reported as spreading in California. Highly naturalized in all counties of southeast Texas, Chinese tallow is recognized as the most invasive plant species of the Lower Galveston Bay watershed.
Introduction Pathways
Introduced repeatedly since the late 1700s after Benjamin Franklin imported specimens to the United States; cultivated by the USDA in the early 1900s for tallow oil which can be used in soap and candle production. Also planted as an ornamental tree. Also planted as an ornamental tree because of its colorful autumn foliage.
Specific Primary Habitats
High affinity to coastal prairie, wetlands, stream banks, and bottomland forests as well as to disturbed areas such as ditches, pastures, and waste areas. Tallow is tolerant of varying light conditions, soil types, flooding, and drought.
Identifying Characteristics
Leaves are heart-shaped, alternate, 1-3 inches long, and 1-2.5 inches wide. They are medium green until fall when they turn yellow, orange, and red. Petioles are slender and waxy. Flowers occur on long, yellow, spike-like branches that are 2-8 inches long. Fruit is a three-lobed capsule, turning black and falling off when mature, revealing three white waxy seeds resembling popcorn.
Reproduction Characteristics
Can reach reproductive age in as little as three years and prolifically produces seeds, which are readily transported by water and birds. Flowers mature March through May and fruit ripens August through November. Also propagates via cuttings, stumps, and roots.
Growth Characteristics
Chinese tallow grows very quickly and vigorously. It rapidly develops a taproot system to help it withstand drought. Individual trees can reach 30-45 feet in height and 3 feet in diameter.
Ecological, Economic, or Social Impact
Chinese tallow will transform native habitats into monospecific (single species) tallow forests in the absence of land management practices. Chinese tallow alters light availability for other plant species. Fallen tallow leaves contain toxins that create unfavorable soil conditions for native plant species. Chinese tallow will outcompete native plant species, reducing habitat for wildlife as well as forage areas for livestock.
Control
Apply a triclopyr herbicide to basal bark in late summer or early fall (such as 20% Garlon 4 in oil) or, for large trees, apply directly to the stump after cutting down the tree (use Rodeo for trees growing in water). Pull up seedlings by hand. Large land areas can be managed by mowing and the careful use of controlled burns.

Native Species Alternatives
Below is a list of alternative plants that are native to the area:
  • Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis var. Canadensis)
  • Blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica)
  • Water oak (Quercus nigra)
This species belongs to the following lists:
Images
To view a larger version of an image, click on the thumbnail.
Chinese tallow re-growth in December in a coastal prairie near La Marque, Texas. Photo courtesy Dr. Glenn Aumann, UH Coastal Center www.eih.uh.edu
Chinese tallow re-growth in December in a coastal prairie near La Marque, Texas. Photo courtesy Dr. Glenn Aumann, UH Coastal Center www.eih.uh.edu
Re-growth of Chinese tallow after an attempt to control the invasive tree in a coastal prairie near La Marque, Texas. Photo courtesy Dr. Glenn Aumann, UH Coastal Center www.eih.uh.edu
Re-growth of Chinese tallow after an attempt to control the invasive tree in a coastal prairie near La Marque, Texas. Photo courtesy Dr. Glenn Aumann, UH Coastal Center www.eih.uh.edu
Chinese tallow invading a coastal prairie near La Marque, Texas. Young tallow saplings (foreground) will form a monocultural tallow forest (background) in less than 20 years. Photo courtesy Dr. Glenn Aumann, UH Coastal Center www.eih.uh.edu
Chinese tallow invading a coastal prairie near La Marque, Texas. Young tallow saplings (foreground) will form a monocultural tallow forest (background) in less than 20 years. Photo courtesy Dr. Glenn Aumann, UH Coastal Center www.eih.uh.edu
Leaves and flowers of the Chinese tallow tree. Photo courtesy of Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, www.forestryimages.org; Image Number 0016032.
Leaves and flowers of the Chinese tallow tree. Photo courtesy of Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, www.forestryimages.org; Image Number 0016032.
Both ripening fruit and popcorn-like seeds of the Chinese tallow tree. Photo courtesy of James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, www.forestryimages.org; Image Number 0016034.
Both ripening fruit and popcorn-like seeds of the Chinese tallow tree. Photo courtesy of James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, www.forestryimages.org; Image Number 0016034.
Chinese tallow Autumn foliage. Image courtesy of James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, www.forestryimages.org; Image Number 0016234.
Chinese tallow Autumn foliage. Image courtesy of James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, www.forestryimages.org; Image Number 0016234.
Chinese tallow infestation showing fall color. Photo courtesy of Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service, www.forestryimages.org; Image Number 1116091.
Chinese tallow infestation showing fall color. Photo courtesy of Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service, www.forestryimages.org; Image Number 1116091.
Chinese tallow invading the understory of a box elder forest. Photo courtesy of Cheryl McCormick, The University of Georgia, www.forestryimages.org; Image Number 1879004.
Chinese tallow invading the understory of a box elder forest. Photo courtesy of Cheryl McCormick, The University of Georgia, www.forestryimages.org; Image Number 1879004.
Foliage of the Chinese tallow tree in autumn; note changing colors. Photo courtesy of Cheryl McCormick, The University of Georgia, www.forestryimages.org; Image Number 1879014.
Foliage of the Chinese tallow tree in autumn; note changing colors. Photo courtesy of Cheryl McCormick, The University of Georgia, www.forestryimages.org; Image Number 1879014.
Bark of a mature Chinese tallow tree. Photo courtesy of James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, www.forestryimages.org, Image Number 2307039.
Bark of a mature Chinese tallow tree. Photo courtesy of James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, www.forestryimages.org, Image Number 2307039.
Chinese tallow shading the banks of Armand Bayou in Harris County, Texas. Photo courtesy of Brenda Weiser, Environmental Institute of Houston, University of Houston-Clear Lake.
Chinese tallow shading the banks of Armand Bayou in Harris County, Texas. Photo courtesy of Brenda Weiser, Environmental Institute of Houston, University of Houston-Clear Lake.
Page Updated/Reviewed: 07/14/2010 8:34 AM
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