Native to China and Japan. Fast-growing tree to 40 feet tall, 30 feet wide, with a rounded or conical crown. Its names come from its unusual seeds: The Chinese once extracted wax from the seed capsules to make soap and candles, and the ripened, whitish seeds resemble popcorn. Decorating wreaths with this popcorn is a popular tradition in Charleston and other South- eastern cities. The tree has long been prized in the South for its spectacular scarlet, orange, burgundy, and yellow fall display; it's one of the few trees with brilliant fall color in the Deep South. In the northern end of the Lower South, young trees may be killed to the ground in winter, and branches of established trees may be frozen back several feet.
Medium green leaves to 3 inches long and wide are rounded, tapering to a slender point; they flutter in the slightest breeze. Tree has an airy look and casts moderate shade, making it a good choice for lawns and terraces. Blooms in summer; flowers are yellowish green, stringlike catkins 24 inches long. The seed capsules that follow open by October, revealing the white, waxy seeds.
Chinese tallow tolerates almost any soil. Seedlings can easily grow 5 feet tall the first year. Unfortunately, almost every seed produced germinates somewhere; the tree has spread so prolifically in Florida and along the South Atlantic coast that in those areas it is considered a noxious weed. Formerly known as Sapium sebiferum.