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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2 thoughts on “Chinese Tallow Tree

  1. i grew up on the gulf coast prairie just south of houston, when chinese tallow trees were just begining to spread from peoples yards into the surrounding countryside in the mid-sixties.55 years later tallows have taken over thousands of acres of prairie. they turn grassland, where native trees dont even seed, into utterly useless mono-forest which support almost no native fauna.they are an eco-disaster on the level of kudzoo and fire ants. they should be cut down and poisoned out of existence in north america. they belong in china!

  2. Personally, I don’t get why people think plants can’t move around the planet same as any other species! It’s natural for living beings to migrate – whether by wind, driftwood, through other species…whatever vector gets used, it’s all part of how nature does it! Wherever a niche exists, life can flourish…it will & so it should! It is better for life to flourish, than not! Especially if it means the entire ecology undergoes change. Change = new resources & more life support for our ecology (thus better chance at survival & thriving)!

    The war on ‘weeds’ is a horrendous trait – plants are not our enemies. They keep us alive. They provide us resources.

    Climate Change & the current extinction crisis means we need as many plants as possible – especially large & prolific trees! The environmental challenges make ‘weeds’ (or any plant which grows out of control) our saviours! And yet people want to adjust this natural balance & prevent natural revegetation of denuded landscapes.

    And wow what an amazing resource this tree is – just boil & skim the wax off to make candles, lamps, soap & other products. We can dump the crude oil drilling rigs & utilize these trees instead! What an AMAZING RESOURCE – how fortunate you are to have these in your area!

    It’s a multi-purpose tree – makes various medicines, biodiesel & other bio-energy, highly prized wood, wax-related products & more!

    Check it out:

    Most plants were introduced for a reason – valuable medicinal or product. Seems this one is no different. Turn the ‘problem’ into a solution – turn the ‘weed’ into a valuable crop (useful resource), as a way to re-forest/re-vegetate drylands (to reverse Climate Change) & provide habitat for wildlife!

    I wonder why such the large area you mention is prairie – sounds like it was cleared for livestock & it’s just been waiting for a tree that can survive to regenerate the landscape…it will bring back the rain, forest the area & come back to life!

    I could go on about this tree forever…it’s so inspiring! Nature is generous, kind & loving! Not toxic & a pest!

    That’s how I see it, anyway.

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