Chinese tallow tree

Sapium sebiferum (L.) Roxb.

Euphorbiaceae (Spurge family)


Chinese tallow tree is a fast-growing weedy tree with milky sap. It grows to 30 feet tall and often spreads by root sprouts. Its slender limbs and branches droop and are easily broken.

The leaves of Chinese tallow trees are hairless and located alternately along the stem. The leaves have smooth margins and diamond-shaped blades that are shorter than the petioles (leaf stalks). They turn bright yellow, orange or red in the fall.

The flowers have no petals and grow in 2- to 6-inch drooping spikes at the end of each branch. The fruit has three cells, the walls of which fall readily at maturity. The three chalky white seeds may remain attached to the cells through the winter. These nutlike seeds have a hard coat covered by tallow that blackens with weathering.

The forage value of Chinese tallow trees is poor for livestock and fair for wildlife.


Introduced from Asia, Chinese tallow is planted widely as an ornamental. Birds disperse the seeds, and it has escaped in the southeastern part of Texas, where it can be a significant invading woody species.

Toxic Agent

The toxic agent is unknown. The terminal leaves and green fruit have a strong purgative effect on the bowels of cattle. The consumption of 1 percent of an animal's weight in green plant material can produce clinical signs within 12 to 14 hours. Losses may occur when cattle are forced to consume significant amounts of the plant in the seedpod stage. Sheep and goats are not affected significantly.

These trees are more significant as a cause of decreased forage production than as a toxic plant.

Signs of Livestock Ingestion

The signs of poisoning are associated with gastrointestinal disorder and may include:

Diarrhea (sometimes with free blood; Anorexia; Listlessness; Weakness; Dehydration.

Management Strategies

Animals consuming the plant and suffering from diarrhea often recover when it is removed from the diet. Chinese tallow is unpalatable and is not consumed when good grazing management practices are followed. Pastures with many tallow trees should not be severely overgrazed, especially in early summer when the trees are putting on fruit.

Severe populations of Chinese tallow may be controlled with broadcast applications of Grazon P+D® (2.5 pounds a.i./acre) or Tordon 22K® (0.5 pound a.i./acre) in the spring or fall.

Individual plants may be controlled with spot applications of Velpar L® at 4 ml per 1 inch of stem diameter or with a basal stem treatment of 25 percent Remedy® plus 75 percent diesel fuel oil.