The Bugwood Network

Tallowtree, Popcorntree
Triadica sebifera (L.) Small

International Code - TRSE6
FIA survey code - 0994


Miller, James H. 2003. Nonnative invasive plants of southern forests: a field guide for identification and control. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS–62. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 93 p.

acrobat version

Synonym: Chinese tallowtree, Sapium sebiferum (L.) Roxb.

Plant. Deciduous tree to 60 feet (18 m) in height and 3 feet (90 cm) in diameter, with heart-shaped leaves, dangling yellowish spikes in spring yielding small clusters of three-lobed fruit that split to reveal popcorn-like seeds in fall and winter.

Stem. Terminal clusters of flowers and fruits result in whorled branching from lateral buds below fruit clusters. Twigs lime green turning gray with scattered brownish dots (lenticels) later becoming striations. Numerous semicircular leaf scars becoming raised with age. Bark light gray and fissured. Sap milky.

Leaves. Alternately whorled, distinctively heart-shaped with a rounded wide-angled base and a short or long attenuate tip. Blades 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) long and 1.5 to 2.5 inches (4 to 6 cm) wide. Dark-green with light-green mid- and lateral veins and turning yellow to red in fall. Hairless, lime-green petioles 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 8 cm) with a tiny gland on upper side of juncture between blade and petiole (requires magnification).

Flowers. April to June. Slender, drooping spikes to 8 inches (20 cm) long of tiny flowers. Yellowish-green sepals but no petals. Female flowers at base and males along the spike.

Fruit and seeds. August to January. Small terminal clusters of three-lobed capsules (occasionally four to five lobed), each 0.5 to 0.75 inch (1.2 to 2 cm) across. Dark green in summer becoming black and splitting to reveal three white-wax coated seeds 0.3 inch (0.8 cm) long and 0.2 inch (0.5 cm) wide. Resemble popcorn and remain attached until winter.

Ecology. Invades stream banks, riverbanks, and wet areas like ditches as well as upland sites. Thrives in both freshwater and saline soils. Shade tolerant, flood tolerant, and allelopathic. Increasing widely through ornamental plantings. Spreading by bird- and water-dispersed seeds and colonizing by prolific surface root sprouts.

Resembles cottonwoods, Populus spp., which have wavy margined leaves and flaking bark.

History and use. Introduced from China to South Carolina in the 1700s and then in significant numbers to the gulf coast in the early 1900s. Plantings for seed oil recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture during 1920 to 1940. Ornamental (still sold and planted). Waxy seeds traditionally used to make candles. Honey plant for beekeeping.


May
Photo by T. Ellis, Jr.


June
Photo by T. Bodner


July
Photo by J. Miller


September
Photo by F. Nation

August
Photo by J. Miller


August
Photo by J. Miller


July
Photo by J. Miller


States with suspected infestations are shown in gray.


Recommended control procedures:

Large trees. Make stem injections using Arsenal AC*, Garlon 3A, or Pathfinder II in dilutions and cut spacings specified on the herbicide label (anytime except March and April). For felled trees, apply the herbicides to stem and stump tops immediately after cutting (at least a 10-percent solution for Garlon 3A). Ortho Brush-B-Gone (triclopyr) and Enforcer Brush Killer (triclopyr) are effective for treating cut stumps and readily available to homeowners in retail garden stores. For treatment of extensive infestations in forest situations, apply Velpar L* to the soil surface within 3 feet of the stem (one squirt of spot gun per 1-inch stem diameter) or in a grid pattern at spacings specified on the herbicide label.

Saplings. Apply Garlon 4 as a 20-percent solution in commercially available basal oil, diesel fuel, or kerosene (2.5 quarts per 3-gallon mix) with a penetrant (check with herbicide distributor) to young bark as a basal spray.

Seedlings and saplings. Thoroughly wet all leaves with one of the following herbicides in water with a surfactant (July to October): Arsenal AC* as a 1-percent solution (4 ounces per 3-gallon mix), Krenite S as a 30-percent solution (3 quarts per 3-gallon mix), or Garlon 4 as a 2-percent solution (8 ounces per 3-gallon mix).

*   Nontarget plants may be killed or injured by root uptake.


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USDA Forest ServiceUSDA APHIS PPQThe Bugwood Network University of Georgia Bargeron, C.T., D.J. Moorhead, G.K. Douce, R.C. Reardon & A.E. Miller
(Tech. Coordinators). 2003. Invasive Plants of the Eastern U.S.:
Identification and Control. USDA Forest Service - Forest Health
Technology Enterprise Team. Morgantown, WV USA. FHTET-2003-08.