The Tree That Should Not Be
Each year with the arrival of fall, the leaves of the tree in my backyard transform from deep green into glorious shades of red, yellow and brown and drops a blanket of crackly, colorful leaves into the yard. In winter, the tree supports a blanket of glistening snow and Doves who roost within the branches to search for food. In spring, bright fists of green emerge to welcome warmer temperatures. It's one of two trees we planted years ago.
How was I to know this one was on the list of five dangerous and invasive species?
When I bought the tree many years ago at the flea market, I asked the seller what kind of tree it was. He hesitated, scratched his head and told me it might be a popcorn tree. How was I to know that was an invasive species?
Learning to identify trees by the shape of their leaves led me to an important discovery about my favorite tree. When I planted it, the tiny twig stood around two feet tall. After only a few years, the sapling transformed into a mature, hearty tree that provides shade and comfort with its soothing, rustling leaves.
Unfortunately, the fast growing nature of this tree results from the ability to reproduce itself in a number of ways.
Trees for Sale
Pods Without Peas
People often comment on the majestic and shapely tree that has grown tall in my backyard. Some have asked what kind of tree it is. After years of wondering, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked the professional tree trimmers. They said they didn't know. Neither did anyone else I asked.
On Google, I found a site that identifies trees by answering a few questions about the shapes of the leaves, the formation of the stems and the type of fruit or blossoms it produces. Within moments, the data base can tell you what type of tree you have.
History of the Popcorn Tree
The Triadica Sebifera of the family Euphorbiaceae was originally imported from China and brought into South Carolina in the 1700s. The hearty nature of the Triadica Sebifera, known as the Chinese Tallow, is responsible for its growth in numbers and since the early 1970s has been considered an invasive plant in the Carolinas. The US Department of Agriculture lists the Chinese Tallow, also called a Popcorn Tree, as being among the top five most destructive non-native plant species in the south.
This rapid growing deciduous tree can reach sixty feet tall with a base of three feet in diameter. Studies show that the Tallow tree can actually change chemical properties of the soil and alter composition and structure of native plant communities disrupting the natural ecological balance.
The exponential growth of this invasive species has been reported as "dramatic across three states, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas by researchers in forest inventory and analysis. The USDA says the numbers of these trees have grown by over three hundred percent (370%) over the last sixteen years.
Seeds Form in the Summertime
According to the FLEPPC, (Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council), "The Tallow Tree or Popcorn Tree is considered a common agricultural weed in Taiwan, requiring constant effort and expense to hold at bay". The tree survives in freshwater and saline soils equally well, its range into natural areas known to disrupt naturally occurring plant communities.
The spread of the tallow tree occurs through microscopic spores blown by the wind, through seeds dropped into runoff waters, by underground root systems that produce shoots and by birds eating the fruit and spreading the seeds in their droppings. It can also spread on the blades of mowers and can root from cuttings off limbs. Its leaves contain toxins than can alter the soil, forming unfavorable conditions for native plant species.
According to Texas Invasive Organization this species ranks among the Black-lands Prairie's Dirty Dozen for its ability to reduce habitats for wildlife. The Chinese Tallow tree is present in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina and Texas.
The Popcorn Tree
© 2012 Peg Cole
The tree that lives In my back yard
Has come through winters Long and hard
Survived the drought, withstood the rains
The foreign tree that yet remains.
With heart shaped leaves and popcorn fruits
It’s often known to sprout from roots.
Survives in pure and salty soil.
Transforms the dirt its toxins spoil.
This hearty tree Invades the plains
Until no native plant remains.
Invasive plant from the Far East
The Chinese Tallow is the beast.
The tree that spreads as if a weed
When in the spring begins to seed
Among the most destructive five
I should not let this tree survive.
For twenty years she’s given shade
Beneath her limbs our plans were made.
Her name now known. Her leaves a crown.
Would be a shame to cut her down.
Free Tool from the Arbor Day Organization
- What Tree Is That? Tree Identification Guide at arborday.org
What Tree Is That? is a tree identification guide from the Arbor Day Foundation, featuring an easy-to-use, step-by-step process to identify nearly any tree in North America.
Trees - Alfred Joyce Kilmer, Sung by Paul Robeson
Agricultural and forestry agencies have assured me, according to the Regional Forest Health coordinator, this tree is not that invasive, rather, more troublesome in the sandy plains and in creek beds where the seeds take root.
Thankfully, I'm not required to cut it down nor will I be penalized for planting it. For the time being, my tree remains the joy of my back yard, a haven for birds, bees and a key member of my landscape.
Do you know the names of the trees in your yard or neighborhood?
APA Southern Research Station - USDA Forest Service (2009, January 12) Five Invasive Plants Threatening Southern Forests in 2009 Identified
FLEPPC, Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council
Texas Invasives Organization
© 2012 Peg Cole