Table of Contents
Chinese tallow is an invasive plant that causes ecosystem modification and kills as well as replaces many native species. The tree is adaptable to any environment; therefore, it rapidly grows and spreads, thus, invading more areas. Currently, the US society tries to address the problem and reduce the number of trees. However, it is rather a complicated task as Chinese tallow is resistant to pests, diseases, and droughts. The paper explores Chinese tallow, its characteristics, adaptation, history, distribution, use, harmful effects, and ways of its removal.
Description of Chinese Tallow
The biological name of Chinese tallow is Sapium sebiferum (NC State University, n.d.). The plant is also known as popcorn tree, Florida aspen, and chicken tree (United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), n.d.). It belongs to the spurge family. The tree is of medium size and can reach 50 feet in height (USDA, n.d.). Chinese tallow is a deciduous tree with milky toxic sap. Its leaves are simple, alternate, 1-2.5 inches wide (see fig. 1) (Langeland & Enloe, 2015). The upper part of the leaf is dark green, and the lower one is a bit paler. In the fall, its leaves turn orange, yellow, and scarlet. The leaf stalk is 1-4 inches long (USDA, n.d.). Small yellow flowers appear in the spring and usually mature from April to June. The fruit contains three white seeds ripening from September to October. As a rule, seeds remain attached to the tree even in the winter.
Characteristics and Adaptation
Chinese tallow is extremely invasive having immense reproductive potential. The tree can reach its reproductive age in as little as three years and stays productive during the next 60 years (USDA, n.d.). Sometimes, it can be productive even for 100 years. Every year, a mature plant produces approximately 100,000 seeds spread by water or birds (NC State University, n.d.).
Chinese tallow is extremely adaptable and can survive in different environments. The plant grows mainly in low as well as swampy places, near fresh water (North Coast Weeds Advisory Committee, n.d.). Furthermore, the tree can survive in dry infertile lands. The most favorable condition for its growing is sunshine; however, Chinese tallow can adapt to shade as well. Although the tree prefers to grow in subtropical warm climate, it is able to tolerate light frost. Moreover, it is resistant to all insects inhabiting the United States, and the fire does not damage it so much in comparison with other trees (USDA, n.d.).
Originally, the Chinese and Japanese people started to cultivate Chinese tallow because of its oils. The tree was first brought to the United States by Benjamin Franklin in 1772, for seed oil production and ornamental purposes. Chinese tallow was also introduced to South Carolina in the late 1700s. In the 1900s, the US Department of Agriculture encouraged Chinese tallow tree planting to promote the establishment of local soap industries (USDA, n.d.). Since that time, it has spread across the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas. Over the last twenty years, the number of trees has significantly increased. Chinese tallow has been planted mainly because of its ornamental qualities.
Chinese tallow is planted in many countries throughout the world. The tree is native to Japan and Central China that have cultivated it as a seed crop for more than 14 centuries. Chinese tallow also grows in Korea, Taiwan, Hainan island, India, Sri Lanka, Bengal, Indochina, Sudan, Algeria, the Southern United States and France (USDA, n.d.).
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The Use of Chinese Tallow
The plant is widely used for the production of soap, candles, and fuel. The kernels secrete an oil known as stillingia oil utilized in machine and lamp oils, paints, and varnishes. There is an assumption that oil produced by seeds could replace petroleum; currently, scientists are working hard trying to prove this idea. Moreover, the oil of Chinese tallow can be turned into methanol, ethanol, and charcoal (USDA, n.d.).
The Harmful Effects of the Tree
Currently, Chinese tallow is considered to be a real threat and recognized as a pest plant. When the tree starts growing in a particular area, it rapidly spreads creating a forest without native plant and animal species. Thus, it causes ecosystem modification, thereby, reducing the diversity of wildlife. Chinese tallow does not coexist and replaces such plants and trees as elderberry, sweet gum, black willow, oak, swamp dogwood, and sunflower among others (USDA, n.d.). Nowadays, these plants and trees are not in danger of extinction. However, if the spread of Chinese tallow continues, many of them will be scarce.
Due to the fact that Chinese tree can tolerate any environment, it has the potential to invade surrounding marshes and change them to woody plant communities. As it has already been mentioned, ecosystem modification leads to the disappearance of some animals and birds. For example, Attwater’s prairie chicken was abundant in Texas; however, nowadays, it is in danger of extinction due to loss of habitat. Moreover, the number of dickcissels, migratory songbirds, and mottled ducks has dramatically decreased (USDA, n.d.).
Furthermore, plant sap and berries contain toxins; therefore, the tree is harmful to animals. Cattle do not consume this plant, however, sheep and goats can eat its leaves. People do not consume Chinese tallow as well. If a person decides to try some part of the tree, it can lead to gastrointestinal upset with vomiting and nausea. The contact with these parts can also cause dermatitis (USDA, n.d.).
The Ways of Removing Chinese Tallow
According to its status, Chinese tallow is considered to be a state noxious weed; consequently, it should be destroyed and suppressed (North Coast Weeds Advisory Committee, n.d.). Before removing the tree, a person should get a permit. Apart from cutting the tree, there are some other options. The first way is to use fire in appropriate habitats with sufficient fuel such as dry prairies. The second way is to consider the use of chemicals, namely herbicide (Langeland & Enloe, 2015). However, much care should be taken not to cause harm to non-target species. Different methods of applying herbicide include frill, basal bark, foliar or girdle treatments (USDA, n.d.). Basal bark treatment is thought to be the most effective method of removing the tree. The third and last way is biological control. As Chinese tallow is resistant to many insect pests, integrated pest management programs should be utilized. There are some insects capable of destroying the tree such as the bagworm, nematode, and various fungi (USDA, n.d.). However, Chinese tree is very hard to remove and seedlings continue returning; therefore, all these methods do not guarantee that the tree will be completely destroyed.
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Currently, Harris County has introduced wildlife regulation plan aimed at promoting the growth of native vegetation and suppressing the spread of invasive species. The county utilizes the above-mentioned methods of destroying Chinese tallow; therefore, it is expected that the number of these trees will significantly decrease in a few years.
Chinese tallow is an extremely dangerous tree responsible for the loss of many ecosystems, thereby decreasing biodiversity of areas. Moreover, it is considered to be toxic due to its poisonous sap and berries; consequently, its consumption may lead to serious health problems. Although the tree can be used for the production of some goods, its negative effects outweigh positive ones. Therefore, the community takes necessary measures to suppress the growing and spreading of Chinese tallow. Only by using the above-mentioned methods of removing this tree, the society can save natural habitat and species living there.
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