By Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
As I wondered what to write about this week, a very odd shaped leaf came to my mind. It is very common in the south, yet it goes unnoticed or identified incorrectly. That leaf belongs to the Chinese Parasoltree. While the name seems funny, once you see the leaf you will understand!
Firmiana simplex, otherwise known as Chinese Parasoltree, phoenix tree, or varnish-tree arrived in the United States around the mid-1700s and has caused havoc ever since. The tree was originally planted as an ornamental and probably for reasons that are defined by its name- to provide shade like an umbrella. Unfortunately, its cons outweigh its pros and it is a definite threat to native vegetation here in the South. The tree itself can reach heights up to 50 feet, while the DBH usually only runs about 2 feet. The parasol shaped leaves are dark green with very deep lobes. The leaf itself can be 8-12 inches long but its width can be double the length! It is a very showy tree in the fall because the broad leaves turn a golden yellow color. The trunk of the tree is a grayish-tan color and contains stripes that appear orange. In the summer months, the tree begins to put on yellowish-tan flowers that appear all over the tree. There are separate male and female flowers that are distinguished by color. The male flowers turn pink before they fall to the ground. The flowers can be mildly fragrant and they open at different times. Soon after the tree begins to flower, it produces pea sized fruits that, like the rest of the tree, are a yellowish-tan color. These pea sized fruits contribute to the numerous colonies of Chinese Parasoltrees that span across the south. The tree self-pollinates and self-seeds which means it can pretty much grow and reproduce wherever and whenever. The seeds are wind and water dispersed. Why don’t birds and other wildlife contribute to dispersal? Well, it seems that the seeds are high fat and undesirable to wildlife species here in the South.
The Chinese Parasoltree is no exception the invasive species definition; it thrives along roadsides and right-of-ways and it quickly outcompetes native vegetation. At first sight, this species is aesthetically pleasing (especially in the fall) and you may enjoy the shade it provides, however it needs to be eradicated from your property before a Parasoltree colony is born!
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