By Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
The forests throughout the Southeastern states are beautiful and green this time of year, especially when they are properly managed. Everything has greened up and it is easier to identify what trees you have and what trees you need to exterminate. Although it may look appealing to some, the popcorn tree absolutely must go. This species was once thought to improve landscapes, but is now classified as a highly invasive tree that is detrimental to southern forests.
Triadica sebifera, also known as the Chinese tallowtree or the popcorn tree, was introduced to the Southeast states in the early 1900s. It was shipped in from China to South Carolina as early as the mid-1700s and quickly became popular. Originally, the USDA recommended that the tree was planted for seed oil in 1920. This oil was used in candle making until about 1940. In later years, the tree became popular among homeowners for its shade and aesthetics. The leaf of the tree is very unique and resembles a heart shape. The leaves take on brilliant red and yellow colors in the fall, making them even more desirable, but do not be fooled by the leaves of this highly invasive species. The 60 foot tree also puts out seeds that look like popcorn (hence the name) when they open. Unfortunately, the aesthetics of this tree blinded people from the true facts: it is not native to the Southeast and it highly invasive!
The popcorn tree is most commonly found along ditches and stream banks. Seeds of the tree are dispersed by avian species and water. Once established by root sprouting, the popcorn tree can displace single species stands. It provides excellent shade and can withstand flooding, making it even more invasive. Once mature, the trees can produce up to 100,000 seeds per year! These seeds, either consumed by birds or swept away by moving water, can remain viable in the soil and along the forest floor up to 7 years! That means that long after you remove the tree, seeds from the tree still exist and can still produce other trees. I would compare the popcorn tree to a sweetgum…the only thing that likes them is a beaver. There is no viable use for the tree and it is best to destroy as many as you see.
Unfortunately, we know more now than we did then and we are learning that species that were once thought to be beneficial are actually highly detrimental to our native vegetation. Once the popcorn tree entered the landscape industry, it was all over but the crying. Although it will take many years to reverse the damage, it is best to remove any and all Chinese tallowtrees that inhabit your property. You will be amazed at how fast they displace native vegetation, so get started today!
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