Triadica sebifera

Secondary Names:
Chinese tallow

Leaf Type: Deciduous
Texas Native:
Tree Description:

A small to medium-sized tree with a crooked trunk 12" to 18" in diameter and a height to 50 feet at maturity.

Range/Site Description:

Native of Japan and China, tallowtree is now found in yards, pastures, fencerows, and other unmaintained areas throught coastal and southeast Texas. Tolerates all soil conditions, but not cold-hardy in North or West Texas.


Simple, alternate, 2" to 4" long, generally triangular, with a wedge-shaped leaf base and a long, pointed tip; leaf edge smooth. Fall color varies from yellow, orange, red, and purple, sometimes on the same tree.


A long, yellow spike of flowers, 8" to 10" long, appearing after the leaves in the spring.


Dark gray, 0.5" diameter, three-parted seed clusters open to reveal white, popcorn-like waxy seeds in late fall or winter. Birds eat and spread the seeds.


Tan and bumpy when young, developing flattened ridges that flake outward on older trunks to give a slightly shaggy appearance.


Wood is weak and soft, decays easily. Seeds can be harvested for the waxy coating to make soaps and fuel oil.

Similar Species:

Native shrub coralbean (Erythrina herbacea) has similar leaves, but fruit is a pod. Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) occurs only in the highest mountains of West Texas.

Interesting Facts:

First introduced to the Gulf coast by the USDA in the 1900's to develop a soap-making industry from the seeds.

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