Friday, November 20, 2009

Sapium Sebiferum: The Chinese Tallow

Newly emerging seeds of the Tallow

Drawing by Colin Kaeppel

Deciduos Tallows during the brief Winter in the Brazos Bend State Park

Introduced to the United States in the 1800's for the production of lamp oil from its waxy seeds, the Chinese Tallow tree has become one of the most invasive plant species in the South Eastern part of our country (specifically the Gulf Coast region).

I recently read a horrifying account that this tree makes up more than 20 percent of all trees in the Houston area. This does not surprise me in the least as I have seen impenetrable forest like groves take over vacant lots in no time. Between Houston and Galveston along I-45 there are areas of Gulf Coast prarie that have become virtual Tallow jungles in just the past 20 years and these continue to spread. This is a problem in natural areas where the Tallow chokes out our native vegatation and leaves very little for wildlife opportunities. The toxic sap of this tree makes it resistant to borers and other forms of population control. Fallen leaves toxify the area beneath the tree to ensure dominant survival as well as pollute ponds that effect wild life in those environments.

Very little has been done to erradicate this pest. I was appalled to see this species on a trees for the Houston area list provided by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service during the 2001 Master Gardener program that I attended.



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