Native to: Central China and Japan
Chinese tallow or popcorn tree was first introduced to South Carolina and Georgia by Benjamin Franklin in the 1770s. However, genetic analysis has determined that most of the trees that escaped cultivation and have proliferated throughout the SE US came from later introductions in the early 1900s when it was promoted by the federal government and widely planted for the production of seed oil/soap. It was also planted as an ornamental tree, with attractive flowers, seed pods that resemble popcorn, and bright red fall foliage. It has invaded forests and coastal habitats across the SE US and is also problematic in parts of Asia and Australia.
Habit: deciduous tree with a milky sap, grows up to 30 ft tall
Leaves: simple, alternate, 1–2.5 inches wide, with broadly rounded bases and tapering to a slender point
Flowers: Small yellow flowers that are borne on spikes to 8 inches long occur in spring
Fruit/Seeds: 0.5 inch wide, 3-lobed capsule that turns brown at maturity to reveal 3 dull white seeds
Distribution in Florida: throughout the panhandle and central peninsula. Present but less abundant in South Florida.
Large trees can produce up to 100,000 seeds which are spread by birds or may drop in situ and create a carpet of seedlings on the forest floor inhibiting native understory plants from germinating. It suckers prolifically and can regrow from cut stumps and roots. It also has allelopathic compounds which help it outcompete other native plants around it. Overall, it crowds out and reduces the diversity of native vegetation. Additionally, the leaves and fruit are toxic to cattle and cause nausea and vomiting in humans.
Do not plant or distribute seeds.
Hand pull seedlings. Replace in home landscapes with native trees.
Mature trees should be cut down with a chain saw. The final cut should be made as close to the ground and as level as possible. This will make an herbicide application easier as well as prevent resprouting from the cut. Seedlings can be mowed or disked when small. Burning is also effective for both small and larger trees.
There are 2 insects (Bikasha collaris and Gadirtha fusa) which have been studied for potential release and are under review, learn more: USDA ARS Profile and Biological Controls
10% Milestone, 50% Garlon 3A or Renovate, 20–30% Garlon 4, 10% Habitat. Basal bark: 20% Garlon 4 or 100% Pathfinder II. Addition of 3% Stalker will reduce resprouting on older trees. Foliar: 2% Clearcast, 0.5–0.75% Arsenal or Habitat, 0.5% Method. Incision point application: one hack for every 6 inches DBH, 100% Method, 0.5 mL per hack. Re-treatment for resprouts and new seedlings is almost always necessary. Consult your local UF IFAS Extension for further assistance with management recommendations. Additional information can be found in the EDIS Publication Integrated Management of Non-Native Plants in Natural Areas of Florida.
UF IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas
Natural Areas Weeds: Chinese Tallow
View records and images from University of Florida Herbarium