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 particularly 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 is known for producing 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.