Chinese Tallow Tree

Chinese Tallow Tree


Sapium sebiferum (Recent reclassification by USDA to Triadica sebifera)

Also: Chinese Tallow Tree, Chicken Tree, Popcorn Tree, Black Cypress

Deciduous, fast-growing, adaptable, disease resistant native of China and Japan traditionally grown for soap, cooking fat, and candles. Drought resistant, but one source said they flourish with a minimum of 500mm rainfall/year.

Life Span: 20 years but can live to 100 years.

First Fruit Harvest: 3-5 years.
Productive: Honey in summer, fruit matures in summer to late autumn.
Expected fruit yielding span: 15-17 years but can go for decades longer.

Benefits: 20x more oil/acre than soybeans (12,500 lbs./acre yielding 300 gallons oil and 180 gallons tallow according to Duke University in US, soap, candles, dye, windbreak, erosion control, firewood (26 cubic meters/hectare/4 years), major honey and pollen facilitator, vegan lard, grows where food crops won’t, few insect or disease pests. Also provide quick and reliable shade trees for pasture.

Reproduction: Male and female flowers on each tree. They pollinate each other.

Dimensions at Maturity: Heavily cross-pollinated by diverse plants around them, so there is great variation in size, tree shape, and seed pod appearance. Nugent and Boniface (1996) say 8m tall with girth of 5m. Their profile looked like a cypress. Other pictures looked like an oval willow while others looked like a cherry tree. The picture shows two variations in two colors. At first a pyramid shape, their crowns grow into a more oval/rounded shape.

Sources said 60 cm trunk width but varied as to trunk shape. Some said straight while others said prone to twists.

Considerations: Prolific (labeled invasive in some places) with long-lasting seeds, changes soil composition to suit its needs, some sources say leaves are toxic to other plants. Duke University says livestock do not eat the leaves as they are mildly toxic.

Lessons Learned: In our area, we are not able to plant this tree in the ground due to National Trust parcels on adjoining land. This will be useful in several pots for soap and honey flavoring.

I was surprised by the variation in what different people said about this tree, whether friend or foe, and also variations in its appearance.


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