bee forage

Chinese tallow: a honey bee bonanza or an environmental nightmare?

Although invasive, Chinese tallow is a favorite of beekeepers, producing loads of light-colored honey.

Beekeepers and environmentalists disagree on the Chinese tallow tree, an aggressive invasive plant that produces magnificent crops of light-colored honey.

In a recent e-mail, one of my readers from Mississippi listed the plants that provide the nectar for his honey. Among the plants in the list was the Chinese tallow tree, a species I knew nothing about. So here is what I found.

The Chinese tallow tree, Triadica sebifera (aka Sapium sebiferum) is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family. It grows 30 to 50 feet tall, prefers full sun, and thrives in USDA hardiness zones 8-10. The plant is a native of eastern Asia and was introduced into the United States by Benjamin Franklin in 1772.

The Chinese tallow tree is now considered an invasive species in most areas in which it grows. In fact, the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation named it “one of the ten worst invasive weeds” in the state. It has become exceedingly problematic in eastern Texas where it grows in vast monocultures..

The tree is also known as the candleberry tree, chicken tree, popcorn tree, and Florida aspen. The sap and leaves are poisonous, causing skin irritations. In its homeland, the waxy coating from the seeds—which is not poisonous—was used for making soap and candles. The tree is deciduous and in the fall the leaves turn many different colors, making a striking display.

In spite of all its negative attributes, the Chinese tallow produces large quantities of high-quality honey in many areas of the south. The plant flowers in June and beekeepers often move their hives into tallow tree areas in order to harvest the bountiful nectar.

For a great photo of a Chinese tallow tree in fall click here.

Honey Bee Suite


    • This doesn’t answer your question but it’s interesting. The quote is from the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council:

      Honey produced from Chinese tallow is reported to be similar in quality to that derived
      from goldenrod (Solidago spp.), but having more body, and is usually sold as “bakery grade”.
      Though it lacks certain aspects of richness and complexity in palatability, tallow tree honey can
      be produced copiously and has proven to be an economic boon to beekeepers. In 2004,
      beekeepers in honey-producing states were paid $1.24 per pound for unprocessed, extracted
      “extra light amber” Chinese tallow honey, for quantities in excess of 10,000 pounds (USDA,
      2004). In an article published in the American Bee Journal, Hayes (1979) states “(The Chinese
      tallow tree)… has become the most successful tree nectar source ever introduced into the United

  • I have a copy of that. There are a few other resources that comment on the quality and profitability of Tallow Honey, I just can’t nail down a quantification of yield. In the Houston area, tallow has displaced more than a quarter of all other trees. Like other states, it has become illegal to plant them but I know of beekeepers who simply let them grow from the ample seeds these trees throw down. In fact, there is no world in which everyone involved will choose to give up food or even some portion of college tuition for their kids in consideration of a nebulous idea like “the Environment” or “Global Warming” or even something that affects nectar output like “climate resilience” without having something concrete to hang their hats on.

  • Fyi, i read an article that the species of tallow that Ben Franklin brought here was from western or central Asia. The eastern Asia tallow that pollutes most of the Gulf Coast was introduced by federal biologists. Juat saying what i read not necessarily true.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.