Chinese Tallowtree: History and Control Techniques

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chinese tallowMONTGOMERY-Alabama has a variety of beautiful scenery, from the white sands of the Gulf Coast to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. All of this natural beauty, however, is at risk of being invaded by nonnative plants. The Chinese tallowtree, more commonly called the “popcorn tree,” is just one of the many species invading Alabama’s natural habitat.

The popcorn tree was introduced in South Carolina and Georgia in the 1770s. In the 1990s, it seed oilwas introduced to the Gulf Coast in greater numbers. This species was planted for seed oil production based on recommendations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The waxy seeds from popcorn trees were traditionally used for soap and wax for candles. Today, beekeepers tend to prefer popcorn tree nectar for honey.

tallow-tree-66410Popcorn trees invade numerous types of habitat. They invade stream banks, river banks and other wet areas that are prone to flooding. These trees also invade prairies and other upland sites. They don’t need direct sunlight and are tolerant of areas that have periodic flooding. Popcorn trees can produce viable seed in as early as three years and can produce seed up to 100 years of age. Adult trees can produce up to 100,000 seeds per year. Spreading of this invasive species occurs through seed deposition by birds and by flooding. Seeds will remain viable for up to seven years as long as they remain in the soil. Colonization also occurs through prolific root sprouts.

Mechanical treatments to control the tallowtree can include bulldozing or mulching large infestations. Keep in mind to tallow on sidewalktime treatments around seeding. If re-sprouting occurs, treat new sprouts with herbicide. Another mechanical option available is a tree wrench. This tool allows you to pull saplings up with roots intact.

hack and squirtThis tree can also be treated with a variety of herbicides and application methods. For large trees, the best application method is the hack and squirt method. Another method of treatment with herbicide is the stump treatment. Once the tree is cut down, the cut surface and sides of the stumps are treated with a herbicide. For saplings, basal spray treatments are very good. For this method, the herbicide mixture is sprayed directly onto the young bark of the sapling. A penetrant needs to be added into the mixture. For seedlings and saplings, another treatment option is to completely spray the foliage with a herbicide mixture. Always read the labels to find out which herbicide is right for your situation.

sapling tallowThe next time you are out walking on your property, keep an eye out for the tallowtree and other invasives. For a wealth of information on invasive species, visit the Alabama Invasive Plant Council’s website at

Some very good publications are available on invasive plants. “A Field Guide for Identification of Invasive Plants in Southern Forests” and “A Management Guide for Invasive Plants in Southern Forests” are two great books to have when battling Alabama’s invading plants. Downloadable pdf copies are found at the following websites:  and


By Griff Johnson, Registered Forester and Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries


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