Goodbye, Chinese Tallow Trees

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Big old tree, falling apart

The last few months have been eventful in our little forest. The most conspicuous trees here have been the Chinese tallow tree, Triadica sebifera. According to Wikipedia, they account for 23 percent of the trees in the Houston area, more than any other tree species! Fast growing non-natives, they crowd out just about everything when they are allowed to colonize an area. Our plan was to gradually thin them out, and eventually rid the place of them. But Mother Nature seems to be beating us to the punch. A couple of years ago we noticed some of them were dying, and various people gave us various possible reasons. Now, however, they are clearly struggling, and hundreds of them have died. Whatever the real culprit is, the extreme drought and heat the summer before last seems to have hurried along their demise. Even though we planned to get rid of them all eventually, when they began crashing down all over the place it was a little disconcerting. There are so many large, dead trees out there that we’re a little leery of wandering around when it’s windy.

The best part of this is that the native trees are thriving.  Elms, oaks, ash, hackberries and mulberries are all doing extremely well after years of struggling along in the shade of the tallows, which also suck up huge amounts of water very quickly.  To help this transformation along, we’ve begun removing the relatively few healthy tallows, mainly near the house.

Tallow trees are notorious for sending up thickets of suckers when cut, but we’ve come up with a slow but sure way of killing them that doesn’t involve herbicides or heavy equipment. The trick is to cut them down, leaving two or three feet of the trunk.  In the spring and summer the thickets of suckers that sprout are easily broken off. We can clean off all the suckers on even a large tree stump, using just our hands, in just a few minutes or so. Eventually this depletes the tree’s reserves and it dies. We haven’t kept track of how long this process takes, but maybe four or five sucker removals in about a year is probably about average. And the broken off suckers make fabulous compost.

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4 thoughts on “Goodbye, Chinese Tallow Trees

    • I have no real idea, but I think controlling plants that spread like aspens do would require a different approach. This works with tallow trees because it eventually exhausts the roots. Since aspens are clumpers and not stand alone trees, i don’t think the roots would ever give up.

      • Hmmm, any ideas. My aspen grove is thriving, unbelievably so! I probably easily could have over 100 aspens by now if I didn’t try to keep them in bounds. I love them though, and don’t want to get rid of them. They offer such a good cover for so many creatures and insects. Who knew they would thrive so well in a lower altitude? Certainly there are no other groves of aspens in this area that are thriving like ours. Normally they are weak and quite small and don’t live more than a few years. Ours are approaching 40 ft tall and 15″ around. Even the ones I have let live that are a year or two are easily 15 ft tall and maybe four inches around! Any thoughts or suggestions would be great!

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