Triadica sebifera

Triadica sebifera
Chinese tallow
Chinese tallow tree
leaves and blossom buds
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Malpighiales
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Subfamily: Euphorbioideae
Tribe: Hippomaneae
Subtribe: Hippomaninae
Genus: Sapium
Species: S. sebifera
Binomial name
Sapium sebifera
(L.) Small

Sapium sebifera, formerly referred to as Triadica sebiferum, is commonly known as the Chinese tallow tree, Florida aspen, Chicken Tree, and Gray Popcorn Tree[1] . The tree is native to eastern Asia, and is most commonly associated with eastern China, Taiwan, and Japan. In these regions, the waxy coating of the seeds is used for candle and soap making, and the leaves are used as herbal medicine to treat boils. The plant sap and leaves are reputed to be toxic, and decaying leaves from the plant are toxic to other species of plant. The specific epithets sebifera and sebiferum mean "wax-bearing" and refer to the vegetable tallow that coats the seeds.

It is useful in the production of biodiesel because it is the third most productive vegetable oil producing crop in the world, after algae and oil palm. This species is considered to be a noxious invader in the U.S.


Physical characteristics

The simple, deciduous leaves of this tree are alternate, broad rhombic to ovate in shape and have smooth edges, heart shaped and sometimes with an extended tail often resembling the bo tree, Ficus religiosa. The leaves are bright green in color and slightly paler underneath. They become bright yellows, oranges, purples and reds in the autumn. The tree is monoecious, producing male and female flowers on the same plant.

Seed pods

The waxy green leaves set off the clusters of greenish-yellow and white flowers at bloom time. The flowers occur in terminal spike-like inflorescences up to 20 cm long. Light green in color, these flowers are very conspicuous in the spring. Each pistillate (female) flower is solitary and has a three-lobed ovary, three styles, and no petals. They are located on short branches at the base of the spike. The staminate (male) flowers occur in clusters at the upper nodes of the inflorescence.

Fruits are three-lobed, three-valved capsules. As the capsules mature, their color changes from green to a brown-black. The capsule walls fall away and release three globose seeds with a white, tallow-containing covering. Seeds usually hang on the plants for several weeks. In North America, the flowers typically mature from April to June and the fruit ripens from September to October.

Range and habitat

Range in the United States

The plant is found throughout the southern United States. Incorrectly thought to have been introduced in colonial times by Benjamin Franklin, the tree has become naturalized from North Carolina southward along the Atlantic and the entire Gulf coast, where it grows profusely along ditchbanks and dikes. It grows especially well in open fields and abandoned farmland, and along the edges of the Western Gulf coastal grasslands biome, sometimes forming pure stands.[2] In the Houston area, Chinese tallowtrees account for a full 23 percent of all trees, more than any other tree species and is the only invasive tree species in the 14 most common species in the area.[3] Herbivores and insects have a conditioned behavioral avoidance to eating the leaves of Chinese tallowtree, and this, rather than plant toxins, may be a reason for the success of the plant as an invasive.[4]

The plant is sold in nurseries as an ornamental tree. It is not choosy about soil types or drainage, but will not grow in deep shade. It commonly grows all over Japan, and is reasonably hardy. It is prized for its abundant and often spectacular autumn foliage.

The tree is common is SE Oklahoma as well; However it is not depicted on the map.


Sapium sebiferum in autumn, Japan

The seed's white waxy aril is used in soap making. The seed's inner oil is toxic but has industrial applications.

The nectar is non-toxic, and it has become a major honey plant for beekeepers. The honey is of high quality, and is produced copiously during the month of June, on the Gulf Coast. In the Gulf coast states, beekeepers migrate with their honey bees to good tallow locations near the sea.

The tree is highly ornamental, fast growing and a good shade tree. It is especially noteworthy if grown in areas that have strong seasonal temperature ranges with the leaves becoming a multitude of colours rivaling maples in the autumn.


  1. ^ "Chinese Tallow Tree". Going Native. Retrieved 7 August, 2011. 
  2. ^ CHINESE TALLOW TREE. United States Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Service. Last accessed April 13, 2008.
  3. ^ Tree Population Characteristics. Houston's Regional Forest Report: A Report of Structure, Functions, and Values. U.S. Forest Service and the Texas Forest Service. Published October 24, 2005. Last accessed April 13, 2008.
  4. ^ Constraints on the utilisation of the invasive Chinese tallow tree Sapium sebiferum by generalist native herbivores in coastal prairies. Richard A. Lankau1, William E. Rogers, and Evan Siemann, Ecological Entomology, Volume 29, p. 66-75. Published February 2004. Last accessed April 13, 2008.

External links

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  • Triadica sebifera — ID 85068 Symbol Key TRSE6 Common Name Chinese tallow Family Euphorbiaceae Category Dicot Division Magnoliophyta US Nativity Introduced to U.S. US/NA Plant Yes State Distribution AL, AR, CA, FL, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, TX Growth Habit Tree …   USDA Plant Characteristics

  • Triadica sebifera (L.) Small — Symbol TRSE6 Common Name Chinese tallow Botanical Family Euphorbiaceae …   Scientific plant list

  • Triadica sebifera (L.) Small — Symbol TRSE6 Common Name Chinese tallow Botanical Family Euphorbiaceae …   Scientific plant list

  • Triadica — Chinesischer Talgbaum (Triadica sebifera) im Herbst in Japan. Systematik Ordnung: Malpighienartige (Malpighiales) …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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