By Pat Johnson, Bell County Master Gardener
Recently my husband removed a tree from behind our home while a neighbor and I cheered him on. This tree was a huge threat to our environment because it was an invasive species Chinese tallow tree. I am excited to have it removed.
The Chinese tallow tree (Triadica sebifera) comes to the United States from China introduced in the 1700’s for ornamental purposes. According to the Texas Invasive Species Institute (www.tsusinvasives.org), it averages 20 feet in height and is typically considered a small to medium sized perennial 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.
This all sounds wonderful like, but since it was introduced it has displaced several native species of plants. It is an ecological threat because this species withstands drought because of its deep taproot and it quickly out-competes our native plant species for resources of water and soil nutrients. It uses minimal water sources, can grow in crowded places thus does its best to quickly choke out native plant species. Its leaves and fruit are toxic to cattle and if ingested by humans causes severe nausea and vomiting.
A single Chinese tallow can produce up to 100,000 seeds that look like small, round, green cherries about a half inch in diameter. These seeds might be tempting for a young child to try to eat. These seeds are spread by birds
It is present in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas. The problem is that it grows in full sun and complete shade and everything in between. It can tap water that has a high saline content or a water source that is swampy.
In order to manage this species, the Texas Invasive Species Institute states: “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.”
The Texas Invasive Species Institute is a partner of Texas AgriLife Extension from which master gardeners obtain their education and resource information.
Locally, I have seen several Chinese tallow trees growing in several places, along creeks and roadsides. If you have one of these trees I highly recommend removal. It is a soft wood and fairly easy to cut down.
Check out https://txmg.org/bell/ for information on signing up for our next Master Gardener training class beginning in January 2019. Registration is going on now. Be sure to sign up early, many years there is a waiting list for this training.