Tallowtree, Popcorntree (Triadica sebifera)

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T. sebifera
Scientific Name
Triadica sebifera
(L.) Small
Scientific Name Synonyms
Sapium sebiferum
(L.) Small
Excoecaria sebifera
(L.) Müll.Arg.
Stillingia sebifera
(L.) Michx
Croton sebiferum
Triadica sinensis
Common Names
Chinese tallowtree, Chinese tallow, popcorn tree, Florida aspen, chicken tree, white wax berry

Miller, J.H., E.B, Chambliss, N.J. Loewenstein. 2010. A Field Guide for the Identification of Invasive Plants in Southern Forests. General Technical Report SRS-119. Asheville, NC. United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 126 p.


Deciduous tree to 60 feet (18 m) in height and 3 feet (90 cm) in diameter, with broadly ovate leaves having extended tips. Dangling yellowish flower spikes in spring yield small clusters of 3-lobed fruit that split in fall and winter to reveal popcornlike seeds.


Terminal clusters of flowers and fruits that drop in winter to result in whorled branching from lateral buds. Twigs lime green turning gray with scattered brownish dots (lenticels) later becoming striations. Numerous semicircular leaf scars becoming raised with age. Bark light gray and fissured. Sap milky.


Alternate distinctively wide ovate with a rounded wide angled base and a short or long attenuated tip. Blades 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) long and 1.5 to 2.5 inches (4 to 6 cm) wide. Dark green with light-green mid- and lateral veins, turning yellow to red in fall. Hairless, lime-green petioles 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 8 cm) long with 2 tiny glands on upper side of juncture between blade and petiole (requires magnification).


April to June. Slender, drooping spikes to 8 inches (20 cm) long of tiny flowers. Yellowish-green sepals but no petals. Female flowers at base and males along the spike.

Fruit and seeds

August to January. Small terminal clusters of 3-lobed capsules (occasionally 4- to 5-lobed), each 0.5 to 0.75 inch (1.2 to 2 cm) across. Dark green in summer becoming black and splitting to reveal 3 white-wax coated seeds 0.3 inch (0.8 cm) long and 0.2 inch (0.5 cm) wide. Resemble popcorn and remain attached until winter.


Invades streambanks, riverbanks, lakesides, and wet areas like ditches, as well as grassland prairies and upland sites. Thrives in both freshwater and saline soils. Shade tolerant, periodic-flood tolerant, and allelopathic. Increasing widely through ornamental plantings. Plants can produce viable seed by 3 years and remain reproductive for 100 years. Mature trees can produce 100,000 seeds per year. Spreading by bird- and waterdispersed seeds and colonizing by prolific surface root sprouts. Seeds remain viable in the leaf litter and soil for 2 to 7 years.


cottonwood (Populus spp.), which have leaves with toothed margins and flaking bark with fissured ridges.

History and use

Introduced from China to South Carolina and Georgia in the 1770s and then in significant numbers to the Gulf Coast in the early 1900s. Plantings for seed oil recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture during 1920 to 1940. Ornamentals still sold and planted. Waxy seeds traditionally used to make candles. Honey plant for beekeeping.


Found in dense infestations in southeast TX; south and central LA; central and north FL; and the southern portions of AR, MS, AL, GA, and SC. Scattered infestations further north from ornamental plantings in cities and towns. The projected potential range includes all States within the region.

Management strategies

  • Do not plant. Remove prior plantings, and control sprouts and seedlings. Bag and dispose of fruit in a dumpster or burn.
  • Tallowtree litter mulch inhibits its own seed germination as well as native seeds.
  • Minimize disturbance within miles of where this plant occurs, and anticipate wider occupation when plants are present before disturbance.
  • High-priority sites to monitor and treat are by water.
  • Treat when new plants are young to prevent seed formation.
  • Cut, bulldoze, and mulch when fruit are not present.
  • Manually pull new seedlings and tree wrench saplings when soil is moist, ensuring removal of all roots.
  • Burning treatments intensify infestations and should not be used.

Recommended control procedures

Large trees. Make stem injections using dilutions and cut-spacings specified on the herbicide label (anytime except March and April) with Arsenal AC*, Clearcast*, or Habitat* herbicide in aquatic situations; or when safety to surrounding vegetation is desired, inject Garlon 3A or a glyphosate herbicide.

  • For felled trees and cut saplings, apply a herbicidea herbicide to stump tops and sides immediately after cutting using Garlon 4 as a 10-percent solution in a basal oil (1 quart per 3-gallon mix) when stumps are less than 6 inches in diameter and a 20-percent solution (2 quarts per 3-gallon mix) on larger stumps, or apply Garlon 3A or a glyphosate herbicide mixed in water as a 20-percent solution (2 quarts per 3-gallon mix) on all sizes of stumps. ORTHO Brush- B-Gon, Enforcer Brush Killer, and Vine-X are effective undiluted for treating cut-stumps and available in retail garden stores (safe to surrounding plants). Follow the label directions.
  • For treatment of extensive infestations in forest situations, apply Velpar L* to the soil surface within 3 feet of the stem (one squirt per 1-inch stem diameter) or in a grid pattern at spacings specified on the herbicide label, or Clearcast* as an aerial spray, which has safety to many hardwoods, at 48 ounces per acre.

Saplings. Apply Garlon 4 as a 15-percent solution (58 ounces per 3-gallon mix) in a labeled basal oil product, vegetable oil or mineral oil with a penetrant, or fuel oil or diesel fuel (where permitted); undiluted Pathfinder II when safety to surrounding vegetation is desired; or elsewhere, Stalker* as a 6- to 9-percent solution (1.5 to 2 pints per 3-gallon mix) in a labeled basal oil product, vegetable oil or mineral oil with a penetrant, or fuel oil or diesel fuel (where permitted) to young bark as a basal spray.

Seedlings and saplings. Thoroughly wet all leaves with one of the following herbicides in water with a surfactant (July to October): Arsenal AC* as a 0.75-percent solution (3 ounces per 3-gallon mix); Arsenal PowerLine* as a 1.5-percent solution (6 ounces per 3-gallon mix); Krenite S as a 20-percent solution (5 pints per 3-gallon mix); Clearcast* as a 2-percent solution (8 ounces per 3-gallon mix); or when safety to surrounding vegetation is desired, Garlon 4 as a 2-percent solution (8 ounces per 3-gallon mix).

* Nontarget plants may be killed or injured by root uptake.



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