As the colors begin to change in other parts of the country, many begin to desire the fall reds and golds here as well. Some of our native trees do get lovely fall color, particularly the hickories that turn gold and the sweetgums that turn a brilliant red. But look amongst the red this time of the year and you may find one particularly scary invasive tree growing amongst them: Chinese tallow.
Chinese tallow is desired by many because of its brilliant red fall color, heart shaped leaves, and interesting berries that turn black when ripe and burst open white resembling popcorn, giving this invasive tree its nickname of “popcorn tree.”
Chinese tallow has an interesting history. It was actually first introduced to the Southeast by Benjamin Franklin in the 1700s and was later on promoted by the federal government as a potential cash crop for seed oil and soap production. Many planted it for its ornamental value which many still do today. My great-grandmother owned a plant nursery in Ocala decades ago and sold this tree. One was planted on my grandparents’ property and it has now completed invaded the forested area around the ponds. The aggressive nature of this tree doesn’t take long to realize. Even Benjamin Franklin in the 1700s noted the tendency of this tree to spread. Chinese tallow grows and matures very quickly. One large tree can produce up to 100,000 seeds! What’s even scarier is, each of those seeds and the leaves are toxic to livestock and people.
So rather than inviting a monster of a tree to haunt your property and infesting others, consider instead a native tree such as red maple, American hophornbeam, hickory and sweetgum, that provide you with the fall color you desire. To learn more about Chinese tallow, visit: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/weeds-and-invasive-plants/chinese-tallow.html or contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Service.
This blog is part of a series called Happy Halloweeding that will post on each week of October highlighting an invasive weed.