The most invasive tree species at Camp Salmen is the Chinese Tallow (Triadica sebifera). At one time this tree was valued for the white waxy coating on its billions of seeds. This wax, or tallow, was used to make candles; a vitally important U.S. industry damaged by the advent of Edison’s light bulb. It just so happens this tree loves the lush growing environment of the U.S. South because it’s similar to the one back home. Since its introduction it has busied itself with taking over and becoming the bane of the region’s land managers.
Where the tree does serious harm is by aggressively taking over any openings it can find in native woodlands such those made by storms and land clearing. Its seeds are spread rapidly by floodwaters and bird poop (both of which we have plenty of in Louisiana). If a seedling senses daylight above, it quickly grows up tall and skinny to try to reach it. Once they establish themselves they continue to grow quickly to rob all the sunlight, moisture and nutrients to keep native trees at bay.
You almost have to grudgingly admire this tree’s resourcefulness, versatility and tenacity. It grows quickly in all sorts of soils and is difficult to kill. If you cut off its head, its roots will just sprout a few new suckers, and you’ll end up with a cluster of trees instead of the original one. Grievously wounded, smashed-up and fallen trees will sprout out and find a way to carry on.
There are counter-attacks — time consuming, girdling, grubbing the roots from the ground or careful, individual applications of certain herbicides. However, there is a promising new method of a species-specific aerial herbicide application in development for large tracts of land.
If you happen to personally own one of these trees you know how nasty it is to live with. It’s always sloughing off something – spindly twigs and branches, rotting flowers, shriveled leaves, seeds, sharp little seed pod husks, etc. They’re called Popcorn Trees because that’s what they look like when their seeds are ready to drop. They do, however, have the prettiest fall colors of any tree in this part of the country.
We’ve relentlessly hunted down Tallows in the park and have put an end to many a monster mother tree lurking in the woods and spewing out seed, but baby starts are always spontaneously popping out of fields and along trail edges. We still find stragglers here and there — clusters hiding in inaccessible parts of the park or hiding in plain view.
A small Tallow start.
It is an unfortunate fact that if the woods in this park were ever allowed to once again evolve on their own, these trees will probably flood back in. They are thick in the surrounding area, awaiting like the Huns at the gate, and the birds will happily cooperate by flying in and doing their thing all over the place and spreading the tree’s seeds.