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Chinese tallow

Q: I have Chinese tallow all over my property. How do I get rid of it?

A: I am glad to hear you recognize this tree as a pest and that you are willing to get rid of it in your landscape. Chinese tallow (Sapium sebiferum) grows and spreads rapidly, is difficult to kill, and tends to take over large areas by out-competing native plants. Chinese tallow is spreading rampantly in large natural areas including state-owned protected lands along the St. Johns River. It can thrive in well-drained uplands as well as in bottomlands, shores of water bodies, and even on floating islands. It also is referred to as “Florida aspen” and “popcorn-tree.”

The plant was purposely introduced into the southeastern US as early as the 1700s. It comes from China where it has been cultivated for about 1,500 years as a seed-oil crop. In the US, it is primarily associated with ornamental landscapes. Chinese tallow has become naturalized in the southern coastal plain from South Carolina south to Florida and west to Texas.

New growth on Chinese tallow begins as early as February and flowering lasts from March through May. Fruit ripens from August to November. The tree is deciduous, losing leaves during the autumn. Young trees establish a taproot system and are able to withstand extended periods of drought. At maturity it reaches a height of 20 feet or more. Its primary vectors are birds and moving waters, which is why it is such a difficult plant to control. Homeowners can cut down the tree or have it professionally removed but the stump should be immediately painted with a concentrated herbicide.