Eastern Forest Threat Center - Tallowtree

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Tallowtree in November

Tallowtree in November

James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Triadica sebifera

Tallowtree is native to Japan and to several provinces of central China. It was initially introduced into the U.S. in the 1700s and was used to make candles, soap, cloth dressing, and fuel from the seed tallow.

Keywords: Euphorbiaceae, deciduous, tree; Common names: Chinese tallow, chicken tree, Florida aspen, vegetable tallow, white wax berry, candleberry, popcorntree

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Threat Description

A deciduous tree in the spurge family, tallowtree reaches approximately 50 ft. in height and 3 ft. in diameter at maturity. Its bark is reddish-brown with wide fissures and narrow ridges and often peels off vertically in narrow strips. Branches, which begin relatively low on the trunk, are typically long and drooping. Simple heart-shaped leaves are alternately whorled and dark-green, turning yellow to red in fall. When freshly injured, the leaves exude a milky sap, which may be a skin irritant in humans. Flowers are dangling yellowish-green 8 in. spikes which yield small clusters of three-lobed fruit. Fruits split to reveal popcorn-like seeds in fall and winter that are dispersed by birds and water. Tallowtree also spreads by prolific surface root sprouts. It is adapted to a variety of disturbed sites and a wide range of soil conditions. It does best in alluvial forests, on low alluvial plains, and on rich leaf-molds, preferring well-drained clay-peat soils. In wildland areas, it can swiftly replace natural communities with nearly mono-specific stands. Because it alters natural soil conditions, tallowtree creates an inhospitable environment for many native species.