Chinese Tallow: Invading the Southeastern Coastal Plain

Chinese tallow is an ornamental tree This tree exhibits classic traits of most soil chemistry and make it difficult for
with colorful autumn foliage that can nonnative invaders: it is attractive so other plants to grow.
survive full sunlight and shade, flooding, people want to distribute it, it has incred- How did Chinese tallow come to
drought, and in some cases fire. To ible resiliency, it grows quickly and in a America?
horticulturists this kind of tree sounds like variety of soils, and it is resistant to pests. Chinese tallow was reportedly intro-
a dream, but to ecologists, land managers, In the coastal prairie of Louisiana and duced to the United States by Benjamin
and land owners this kind of tree can be a Texas, Chinese tallow can grow up to 30 Franklin in 1772. It was also introduced to
nightmare, especially when it invades an feet and shade out native sun-loving South Carolina in the late 1700’s. Because
area and takes over native vegetation. prairie species. The disappearing of of the large amount of vegetable tallow
Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera), a prairie species is troublesome because less found in the seed, the U.S. Department of
nonnative tree from China, is currently than 1% of original coastal prairie Agriculture introduced it to the Gulf of
transforming the southeastern Coastal remains, and in Louisiana, less than 500 of Mexico Coast region in the 1900’s to help
Plain. the original 2.2 million acres still exist. establish local soap industries.
Over the last 30 years, Chinese tallow Tallow reproduces and grows quickly What other products can be created
has become a common tree in old fields and can cause large-scale ecosystem with Chinese tallow?
and bottomland swamps of coastal modification (fig. 1). For example, when it Tallow has been cultivated as a seed-oil
Louisiana. Several studies at the U.S. completely replaces native vegetation, it crop in China for at least 14 centuries.
Geological Survey’s National Wetlands has a negative effect on birds by degrading Candles, soap, cloth dressing, and fuel are
Research Center (NWRC), Lafayette, the habitat. Besides shading out grasses made from the tallow. Chinese vegetable
Louisiana, are aimed at understanding the that cattle like to eat, it can also be tallow is a solid fat that is in the outer
factors that contribute to Chinese tallow potentially harmful to humans and animals covering of the seeds. The kernels produce
growth, spread, and management. because of its berries (fig. 2) and plant sap an oil called stillingia oil that is used in
When tallow invades, it eventually that contain toxins. There is some concern machine oils, as a crude lamp oil, and in
monopolizes an area, creating a forest its leaves may shed toxins that change the making varnishes and paints. It can also be
without native animal or plant species. converted to charcoal, ethanol, and
methanol. Potentially, oil from the seeds
can be a substitute for petroleum.

Figure 1. Chinese tallow, also called chicken tree and popcorn tree, is an aggressive, nonnative invader that Figure 2. The fruit of Chinese tallow can be carried by
reproduces quickly, creating a forest without native plant or animal species. birds and water runoff to invade areas.

U.S. Department of the Interior USGS FS-154-00
U.S. Geological Survey October 2000

usgs. from the original stem. contact: relatively unharmed. 700 Cajundome Blvd.nwrc. Fire can hold the dispersed is crucial to controlling it. which suggests that it could possibly Trees are chopped down. USGS National Wetlands Research Center researchers are exploring the uses of color-infrared In the Jean Lafitte National and Histori. On the other Center. Fax: 337-266-8541. One of the challenges of this research is being able to discern not only different types of vegetation but also leaf color changes of Chinese tallow. they are studying which bird species eat tallow For more information. It is able to thrive in the United arid conditions. and They also monitor the rate and extent of its has now been located in California. Lafayette. How is Chinese tallow spread? Chinese tallow has been cultivated in nurseries and sold as an ornamental tree used for landscaping. prairie. In tallow can be damaged by fire and under addition. if some bird species may actually benefit How can I control tallow on my others may suffer because of the change to property? their habitat. and seeds can be spread by birds and by moving water. fire in controlling Chinese tallow. It can also prescribed burning. or cutting. roots are dug up escape from fire control if left untreated and removed. tallow inhibits the spread of fire. Louisiana. way down to Florida. NWRC was carried out when the leaves were turning red (shown here in yellow) and provided a high contrast with the researchers use models that simulate tallow native forest. These remote-sensing techniques can also sometimes for years. these methods are expensive for large- scale control. and marsh vegetation. it is somewhat resistant to fire. How is the USGS National Wetlands Research Center studying Chinese tallow? Figure 4. Tallow can resprout if U. In order to do this. researchers at NWRC use Effective control of tallow can be achieved aerial photography and satellite images to through the intensive use of chemical monitor landscape changes to detect and herbicides. is currently researching the role of hand. In addition. more tolerant of salinity and flooding than Researchers have found that tallow is quite a few other native species. LA 70506. the aggressive seedlings continue to return. NWRC researchers are studying how be used to assess the impact of fire on tallow at bay when the tree density is low. specifically for the grow in both full sunlight and shade. Identifying how Chinese tallow is track Chinese tallow invasion (fig. may be controlled Figure 3. and herbicides are used. Additionally. mowing.. 3). Tallow is susceptible to herbicides. growth. from the presence of tallow. but for several years. researchers are also trying to Chinese tallow has the ability to reach determine the distribution of Chinese reproductive age in as little as 3 years and tallow and conditions that contribute to its to remain productive for at least 60 years. It grows not restricted to moist conditions and in subtropical to warm climates but is established trees can tolerate severe hardy and able to withstand a few degrees drought. Lafayette. Chinese tallow mapping cal Park and Preserve. characteristics make it such an In the coastal prairie of Louisiana and aggressive invader? Texas. however. leaving the tallow Louisiana. photography to map Chinese tallow occurrences. Because fire is an important It does not seem to have a preference for natural process that maintains prairie. 4). they have found that States and is resistant to native insects. though growth can be reduced by of frost. It has separate pollen and seed-bearing flowers. certain circumstances. Also. however. invasion as well as assess the fate of native How do Chinese tallow’s trees once tallow has invaded. tallow. by prescribed burning (fig. A collaborative study with NASA but since tallow can suppress fuel species. . they are studying to see Center.S. is it hard to get rid of? Chinese tallow is very hard to get rid of.How far has Chinese tallow spread invasion in bottomland hardwood areas of in the United States? the Mississippi River delta to better It has spread from South Carolina all the understand how Chinese tallow spreads. they disturbed areas over undisturbed areas and are also evaluating the effectiveness of can grow in a variety of places. west into Texas. It is control of Chinese tallow. tallow is distributed by migrating versus resident birds in South Carolina and is mapping Chinese tallow occurrences. fire can go up to a stand and then go out from lack of fuel. whereas http://www. it is now classified as a nuisance species in some locations and can no longer be sold. The USGS National Wetlands Research Once Chinese tallow is established. Geological Survey/National Wetlands Research topkilled as well as root at some distance seeds.