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ChineseTallow (Popcorn tree)

Sapium sebiferum




















Tallow trees are woody plants native to eastern Asia and most commonly associated with eastern China, Taiwan, and Japan.  It was introduced into South Carolina in 1776 for ornamental purposes and seed oil production.  While not truly an aquatic plant it is common around ponds and in riparian and moist soil areas.  Chinese tallow tree (often called a “popcorn tree”) is a deciduous tree reaching up to 60 feet in height and 3 feet in diameter. The leaves are simple alternate, heart-shaped, 2-3 inches long with a long, pointed tip.  The flowers are yellowish and occur on long, dangling spikes (up to 8 inches).  Flowering occurs from April to June.  The fruit are greenish, three-lobed and found in clusters at the end of branches. Mature fruit are black in color and then open to expose white wax covered seeds.


Tallow trees are a serious invader that can displace native vegetation as well as alter soil conditions due to the high quantity of acidic tannins in the leaves. Most plant eating animals (mammals, birds, and insects) do not consume the leaves of tallow trees.