Chinese tallow tree (Triadica sebifera)

Also known as: Chinese Tallow, Chinese tallowood

Chinese tallow tree is deciduous ornamental tree. It is fast becoming an invasive environmental weed of water courses and native vegetation areas.

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How does this weed affect you?

Chinese tallow trees grow quickly and form dense thickets. They:

  • outcompete native plants
  • are poisonous to people and some animals
  • change the soil to enhance their own seed germination and growth, suppressing other plants

Human poisoning

Chinese tallow trees have a milky sap that is toxic to people. Ingestion can cause nausea and vomiting. Skin contact can cause dermatitis. Always wear protective clothing when treating plants.

What to do if a person is poisoned:

  • If the patient is unconscious, unresponsive or having difficulty breathing dial 000 or get to the emergency section of a hospital immediately.
  • If the patient is conscious and responsive call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 or your doctor.

Livestock poisoning

Chinese tallow tree leaves and immature berries are mildly toxic to cattle and horses. The milky sap in the leaves can irritate the lips and eye and large quantities can cause diarrhea. However, cattle and horses rarely eat this plant. 

What does it look like?

Chinese tallow is a deciduous tree growing to 15 m high, but more commonly reaches heights of 6–10 m. The tree canopy can extend 4–5 m wide with long, drooping branches.

Leaves

  • heart shaped
  • 3–8 cm wide and 3–7 cm long, with a pointed tip
  • smooth edges
  • arranged alternately along the branch
  • attached to the branch by a stalk up to 5 cm long
  • dark green in colour, turning different shades of yellow, orange and red before falling from the tree in autumn
  • two very small glands are located where the leaf and stalk meet

Flowers

  • slender spikes occur at the end of branches
  • 8–14 cm long
  • each flower spike contains many small greenish-yellow flowers

Fruit / seed pod

  • capsule
  • up to 1.2 cm long and 1.4 cm wide
  • green when young, turning black when mature
  • splits into three sections, exposing 3 seeds per fruit

Seeds

  • whitish in colour
  • covered in a chalky coating
  • pea-shaped
  • 7–8 mm long and 5–7 mm wide

Bark

  • rough
  • grey
  • furrows run from top to bottom

Where is it found?

Chinese tallow tree is native to China and has naturalised in Japan, Taiwan, India, Pakistan, Europe, Martinique, Sudan and the USA. It has been cultivated for centuries for many purposes such as oil, fuel and dye.

Originally introduced to Australia as an ornamental tree with beautiful coloured foliage. It has been planted in streets and garden in southeast Queensland and northern New South Wales (NSW). Naturalised populations have now been identified in various locations throughout southeast Queensland. The largest infestation of Chinese tallow tree exists near Casino, NSW. Smaller infestations are evident throughout the North Coast, Central Coast and New England regions of NSW. Localised plants also exist in Victoria.

Chinese tallow tree is still actively promoted by gardening websites as an attractive deciduous tree for warm temperate and sub-tropical climates. Seeds can still be imported into Australia.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Chinese tallow tree during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2024)
    These records are made by authorised officers during property inspections under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Officers record the presence of priority weeds in their council area and provide this to the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Records reflect the presence of the weed on the date of inspection.

How does it spread?

Chinese tallow tree reproduces by seed and root suckers. Seeds are taken by birds to new locations. Mature seed pods float and are carried in floodwater. Pods accumulate along the receding shoreline, releasing their seeds into the soil.

Plants re-shoot from the stump and roots after cutting and burning. Intentional planting of Chinese tallow tree still occurs.

Trees flower in late spring and early summer, with fruits following in late summer to autumn. Both males and female flowers can exist on the same plant, allowing self pollination. Mature trees can produce up to 100 000 seeds per year.

What type of environment does it grow in?

Chinese tallow tree is able to grow in a variety of habitats ranging from full sun to part shade. It prefers sub-tropical climates and also grows well in temperate areas that experience warm winters.

Preferring wet areas, it will flourish in places such as the edge of rivers, lakes, streams and swamps. It still grows well in drier conditions, including roadsides and disturbed areas. Chinese tallow tree is drought and flood tolerant.

Acknowledgements

Written by Rachele Osmond.

References

Clarence Valley Council (2013) Chinese tallow tree control sheet. Available at http://www.clarence.nsw.gov.au/cp_content/resources/Chinese_Tallow__2013.pdf  

Crayn DM (2014) Triadica sebifera (L.) Small in PlantNET – - The Plant Information Network System of The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney, Australia. Available at http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au

Ensbey, R (2011) Noxious and environmental weed control handbook. NSW Department of Primary Industries, Orange. Available at http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/pests-weeds/weeds/publications/noxious-enviro-weed-control

Hosking JR, Sainty GR, Jacobs SWL & Dellow LL (in prep) The Australian WeedBOOK.

North Coast Weeds (2011) Chinese tallow tree. Available at http://www.northcoastweeds.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Chinese_Tallow_Nov_2011.pdf

Weed watch (2013) Chinese tallow tree. Available at: http://www.technigro.com.au/documents/Chinese%20Tallow%20Tree.pdf

More information

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Control

Chinese tallow tree has a milky sap that is toxic to humans. Always wear protective clothing when treating plants.

Manual control

Small plants and seedlings can be manually removed. Roots should be fully removed using this method as trees can quickly regenerate from root suckers. Manual removal is best conducted when the ground is soft and plants are easier to remove without breaking the root.

Herbicide control

Best methods of herbicide treatment are with cut stump or stem injection application. This can be applied at any time of the year. Always monitor control efforts. Treat any shoots that have re-generated from the stump.

Trees treated with herbicide can make the foliage more attractive to stock. Remove livestock from treated areas to avoid possible poisoning.

Herbicide options

WARNING - ALWAYS READ THE LABEL
Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must always read the label and any permit, before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. Users are not absolved from compliance with the directions on the label or the conditions of the permit by reason of any statement made or not made in this information. To view permits or product labels go to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website www.apvma.gov.au

See Using herbicides for more information.


PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2025
Glyphosate 360 g/L with Metsulfuron-methyl 600 g/kg (Various products)
Rate: Tank mix of 1:1.5 of glyphosate plus 1 g of metsulfuron-methyl in 1 L of water
Comments: Stem injection method.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: 9 (previously group M), Inhibition of 5-enolpyruvyl shikimate-3 phosphate synthase (EPSP inhibition)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Picloram 44.7 g/L + Aminopyralid 4.47 g/L (Vigilant II ®)
Rate: Undiluted
Comments: Cut stump application: Apply a 3–5 mm layer of gel for stems less than 20 mm. Apply 5 mm layer on stems above 20 mm. Stem inject application for trees: Make a series of cuts 15-20 mm deep around the trunk using an axe or saw. Space cuts evenly with no more than a 20-40 mm gap between them. Apply a 5 mm layer of gel over the lower surface of the cut.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: Moderate


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Biosecurity duty

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation, and the Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans (published by each Local Land Services region in NSW). It describes the state and regional priorities for weeds in New South Wales, Australia.

Area Duty
All of NSW General Biosecurity Duty
All pest plants are regulated with a general biosecurity duty to prevent, eliminate or minimise any biosecurity risk they may pose. Any person who deals with any plant, who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Hunter
An exclusion zone is established for all land in the region, except the core infestation which includes all urban centres of the Hunter region.
Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Containment)
Entire Hunter Local Land Services region: Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Exclusion zone: Notify local control authority if found. Land managers should eradicate the plant from the land and keep the land free of the plant. A person should not deal with the plant, where dealings include but are not limited to buying, selling, growing, moving, carrying or releasing the plant. Core infestation: Land managers should mitigate spread of the plant from their land. A person should not buy, sell, move, carry or release the plant into the environment. Land managers should reduce the impact of the plant on assets of high economic, environmental and/or social value.
North Coast
Exclusion (eradication) zone: Bellingen Shire LGA, Clarence Valley LGA, Kempsey Shire LGA, Lord Howe Island, Nambucca Valley LGA. Core infestation (containment) zone: Ballina Shire LGA, Byron Shire LGA, Coffs Harbour City LGA, Kyogle Shire LGA, Lismore City LGA, Port Macquarie-Hastings LGA, Richmond Valley LGA, Tweed Shire LGA.
Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Containment)
Whole of region: Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. A person should not buy, sell, move, carry or release the plant into the environment. Exclusion zone: Notify local control authority if found. Land managers should eradicate the plant from the land and keep the land free of the plant. Core infestation: Land managers should mitigate spread of the plant from their land. Land managers should reduce the impact of the plant on assets of high economic, environmental and/or social value.
*To see the Regional Strategic Weeds Management Plans containing demonstrated outcomes that fulfil the general biosecurity duty for this weed click here

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For technical advice and assistance with identification please contact your local council weeds officer.

Reviewed 2024