History and Description
The popcorn tree was
introduced from China to South Carolina in the 1700’s. The popcorn tree’s
scientific name is Triadica Sebifera. It was introduced into the southeastern
United States after being cultivated for about 1,500 years in China as a
In the spring, the popcorn
tree bears small, yellow catkins, which are followed by hard, ˝ inch 3 lobed
capsules. When the capsules split open, waxy, white seeds are revealed, which
resemble popcorn kernels. This is how it got its name “Popcorn Tree.”
In the autumn it’s foliage
turns brilliant before falling off. The seeds, or popcorn kernels often
remain attached to the tree through the winter.
The Chinese tallow, or popcorn tree, is a quick growing tree
that is naturalized and widely grown and used as an ornamental tree as well as
for shade in tropical climates. It grows from 35 to 40 feet high. Its leaves
are oval like blades with pointy-tipped leaves. They grow from 1 to 3 inches in
length and are usually pest-free. The waxy coating that covers its seeds is
used in China, to make soap and candles.
Birds that eat the seeds
easily spread the Chinese tallow from area to area. This tree thrives in
wetlands, bottomlands, hardwood forests and edges around ponds as well as
marshes. It needs full sun and can be grown in almost any type soil. Young
trees can be pruned in the winter to keep their shape. Older trees hardly ever
This tree is sometimes known
as a pest. It grows large, spreads rapidly and is difficult to kill taking over
large areas by out-competing native plants. The
popcorn tree is what is known as an invasive plant. Its strong roots
can take over most any area.
Herbicidal methods are the
most effective option for controlling the Chinese tallow or popcorn tree.
Simply cutting down the popcorn trees does not remove the stumps or roots. This
tree has a strong root system, which makes it very difficult to remove.
The best time to attempt to control the tree by herbicide is during the spring
months when the sap is rising. Also, there are no seeds being produced at that
time. Seeds are typically produced during late August or early September.