Chinese tallow was once a popular landscape tree in the Southeast, and it can still be found in some Florida yards.
The leaves are heart-shaped and turn vibrant red in the fall. The fruit, which also appear in autumn, turn brown at maturity to reveal three dull white seeds which resemble popcorn, giving Chinese tallow another common name, "popcorn tree."
However, research has shown that the Chinese tallow is an invasive species, meaning that it grows and spreads rapidly, and it takes over natural areas. Florida's protected natural areas, like Paynes Prairie State Preserve, are being overrun by the plant.
In 1998, Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera, also known as Sapium sebiferum) was placed on the State of Florida Noxious Weed List, and sale or distribution is no longer permitted.
Birds eat the seeds and their droppings spread the tallow to other landscapes and natural areas. Seeds can also be carried to other new sites by water.
Floridians can help slow the further spread of Chinese tallow by removing these hard-to-kill trees from their properties. After cutting down the trees, treat the stumps with herbicide to prevent resprouting.