Triadica sebifera

Common Name: Chinese tallow 
Type: Tree
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Native Range: China, Japan
Zone: 8 to 10
Height: 30.00 to 40.00 feet
Spread: 15.00 to 20.00 feet
Bloom Time: May
Bloom Description: Yellowish-green
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Shade Tree
Flower: Insignificant
Leaf: Good Fall
Fruit: Showy
Tolerate: Drought


Winter hardy to USDA Zones 8-10. Best grown in moist, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates light shade. Plants develop deep taproots that help them tolerate dry soils and drought. Freely self-seeds, and can be somewhat weedy and invasive in optimum growing conditions.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Sapium sebiferum, commonly called Chinese tallow tree, is a small, fast-growing, deciduous tree that grows to 30-40’ tall. It is typically seen in the wild as a suckering, multi-trunked tree with an irregular crown, but can easily be trained in cultivation as a single trunk tree with a rounded crown. Poplar-like, acuminate, medium green leaves (to 3” long) turn variable shades of yellow, orange, red and/or purple in fall. Monoecious yellow-green flowers in catkin-like spikes appear in spring. Flowers give way to three-lobed capsules, each lobe containing one seed. The outer layers of each capsule falls off in fall at maturity revealing three showy seeds covered with a waxy white coating. Seeds contrast well with fall foliage color and usually persist on the tree after leaf drop. In China, the seeds are harvested in fall for extracting vegetable tallow that is used in making candles and soaps, hence the common name. Mature fruit purportedly resembles popcorn, hence the sometimes used common name of popcorn tree. Stems produce a milky sap that is poisonous. Native to China and Japan, this tree has naturalized along the coast from South Carolina to Florida and Texas.

Genus name comes from the Latin name for a resinous pine.

Specific epithet comes from the Latin words sebum meaning tallow and ferre meaning to bear in reference to the seeds.


No serious insect or disease problems. In some U.S. coastal areas this tree is spreading invasively and crowding out native plants.


Lawn specimen, small shade tree, patio tree or screen where winter hardy. In St. Louis, may be grown in containers as a greenhouse plant.