Scarlet Allure of Chinese Tallow

Scarlet Allure of Chinese Tallow

Chinese tallow displays red fall color in North Florida. Photo: J_McConnell, UF/IFAS

In northwest Florida as we transition into fall, we don’t usually see a spectacular display of color change in the forest or our landscapes. Mixed in with the evergreen pines, oaks, and magnolias, we get sporadic spots of yellow and red from our native hickories, sweetgum, and sumac but otherwise it can be rather dull. It’s no wonder that people are reluctant to part with a blaze of red in their landscapes in the form of the invasive Chinese Tallow (Sapium sebiferum L. aka Triadica sebifera L.).

This fast growing, deciduous tree was initially introduced to the United States in 1776 by Benjamin Franklin. It was promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the early 1900s for the potential to create a soap industry. It was planted as an ornamental because it grows quickly in nearly any type of site condition, has attractive white fruit, and red fall color. Unfortunately, over the years it spread into numerous states and habitats unchecked displacing native vegetation and disrupting wildlife food sources. Eventually, it was recognized as an invasive pest and is currently listed as a noxious weed in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

Chinese Tallow is a prolific seed producer and is sexually mature as young as three years and may continue to produce viable seeds to the ripe age of 100. Although some birds eat the berries (part of the dispersal method), sap in the leaves and berries are poisonous to some other animals including cattle.

To prevent the continued spread of this plant, consider removing from your property and replacing with native species. Buy plants from reputable licensed nurseries with good weed management programs. Be able to recognize Chinese Tallow and do not accept plants from well-meaning gardeners who wish to share a foolproof shade tree!

For more information see Natural Area Weeds: Chinese Tallow (Sapium sebiferum L.)

USDA NRCS Plant Guide Chinese Tallow Tree Triadica sebiera (L.) Small

Alternatives to Invasive Plants Commonly Found in North Florida Landscapes

Golden Fall in the Panhandle

Golden Fall in the Panhandle

Silkgrass Pityopsis spp. Picture by: Sheila Dunning

Each fall, nature puts on a brilliant show of color throughout the United States. As the temperatures drop, autumn encourages the “leaf peepers” to hit the road in search of the red-, yellow- and orange-colored leaves of the northern deciduous trees.

Here in the Florida Panhandle, fall color means wildflowers.  As one drives the roads it’s nearly impossible to not see the bright yellows in the ditches and along the wood’s edge.  Golden Asters (Chrysopsis spp.), Tickseeds (Coreopsis spp.), Silkgrasses (Pityopsis spp.), Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) and Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) are displaying their petals of gold at every turn.  These wildflowers are all members of the Aster family, one of the largest plant families in the world.  For most, envisioning an Aster means a flower that looks like a daisy.  While many are daisy-like in structure, others lack the petals and appear more like cascading sprays.

So if you are one of the many “hitting the road in search of fall color”, head to open areas.  For wildflowers, that means rural locations with limited homes and businesses.  Forested areas and non-grazed pastures typically have showy displays, especially when a spring burn was performed earlier in the year.

With the drought we experienced, moist, low-lying areas will naturally be the best areas to view the many golden wildflowers.  Visit the Florida Wildflower Foundation website,, to see both what’s in bloom and the locations of the state’s prime viewing areas.

And if you are want to add native wildflowers and other Florida-friendly plants to your landscape join the Master Gardeners for their Fall Plant Sale to be held Saturday, October 14 from 8 am to noon at the Okaloosa County Extension Annex located at 127 SW Hollywood Blvd, Ft. Walton Beach.

Want Fall Color? Plant These Trees !

Want Fall Color? Plant These Trees !




Florida has so much to offer!  It is home to the world’s most beautiful beaches. It has one of the largest agricultural economies nationwide.  

But among all these things, Florida is lacking in one area that is very noticeable come fall:  all the beautiful red, yellow, and orange leaf colors that paint the autumn landscape just a few hours to the north!

As frustrating as the lack of fall color in Florida’s native forests may be, this situation is easily amended in yards throughout the state by planting some autumn color standouts!  Here are three of the very best for Northwest Florida:


  • Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

This holdover from the Jurassic Period (Literally! Fossil records indicate Ginkgo has existed virtually unchanged for well over 100 million years!) has much to offer as an ornamental tree, including spectacular golden-yellow fan-shaped leaves in fall!  Somewhat ungainly in youth, a mature Ginkgo is truly a sight to behold, an 80-100’ tall, imposing specimen.   Ginkgos are very tolerant of all soil conditions except waterlogged, have few insect and disease pests, and are remarkably drought-tolerant once established. Be sure to select a male cultivar however, as female trees produce extremely odiferous seeds that remarkably resemble rancid butter!

  • Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis)
Chinese Pistache

Chinese Pistache

A little-known, much underused tree in the Deep South, Chinese Pistache will light your landscape aflame with brilliant, orange-red fall foliage.  One of the last trees to turn color in the fall, Chinese Pistache can help extend the show deep into November!  It is a small to medium sized tree that will not overwhelm any but the smallest landscapes.  As with Ginkgo, the habit of the tree in youth is awkward at best and the tree’s full potential is not realized until maturity when it becomes a dense, oval-round specimen.  Chinese Pistache is close to bulletproof, tolerant of drought and poor soil conditions.

  • Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

One of Northwest Florida’s best native trees for fall color is Black Gum.  Black Gum is a standout tree, pretty in all seasons, possessing dark, almost-black bark, a tall pyramidal habit and vivid fall foliage in the deepest shades of red and purple.  As a bonus, Black Gum usually begins its color change very early, occasionally in September.  The addition of this tree to a lawn dominated landscape can deliver at least an extra month of color!  Black Gum prefers moist, deep soils but is found in dry flatwoods and swamps alike, betraying its adaptability.

Young Black Gum Tree

Young Black Gum Tree

Including the above trees in new or existing landscapes is an easy, smart way to extend the fall color show from September through November and make home gardeners long a little less for the colorful northern autumns!  Happy Gardening!



Fall Color Without Harming the Habitat

Fall Color Without Harming the Habitat

Popcorn tree 2As the trees begin to turn various shades of red, many people begin to inquire about the Popcorn trees.  While their autumn coloration is one of the reasons they were introduced to the Florida environment, it took years for us to realize what a menace Popcorn trees become.  Sapium sebiferum, the Chinese tallowtree or Popcorn tree, was introduced to Charleston, South Carolina in the late 1700s for oil production and use in making candles. Since then, it has spread to every coastal state from North Carolina to Texas, and inland to Arkansas. In Florida it occurs as far south as Tampa.  It is most likely to spread to wildlands adjacent to or downstream from areas landscaped with Sapium sebiferum, displacing other native plant species in those habitats.  Therefore, Chinese tallowtree was listed as a noxious weed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Noxious Weed List (5b-57.007 FAC) in 1998, which means that possession with the intent to sell, transport, or plant is illegal in the state of Florida.

Although Florida is not known for the brilliant fall color enjoyed by other northern and western states, we do have a number of trees that provide some fall color for our North Florida landscapes.  Red maple provides brilliant red, orange and sometimes yellow leaves. The native Florida maple, Acer saccharum var. floridum, displays a combination of bright yellow and orange color during fall.  And there are many Trident and Japanese maples that provide striking fall color.   Another excellent native tree is Blackgum, Nyssa sylvatica. This tree is a little slow in its growth rate but can eventually grow to seventy-five feet in height. It provides the earliest show of red to deep purple fall foliage. Others include Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, Sumac, Rhus spp. and Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua.  In cultivated trees that pose no threat to native ecosystems, Crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia spp. offers varying degrees of orange, red and yellow in its leaves before they fall. There are many cultivars – some that grow several feet to others that reach nearly thirty feet in height. Chinese pistache, Pistacia chinensis, can deliver a brilliant orange display.Trident Maple

There are a number of dependable oaks for fall color, too. Shumardi, Southern Red and Turkey are a few to consider. These oaks have dark green deeply lobed leaves during summer turning vivid red to orange in fall. Turkey oak holds onto its leaves all winter as they turn to brown and are pushed off by new spring growth. Our native Yellow poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, and hickories, Carya spp., provide bright yellow fall foliage. And it’s difficult to find a more crisp yellow than fall Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba, leaves. These trees represent just a few choices for fall color.  Including one or several of these trees in your landscape, rather than allowing the Popcorn trees to grow will enhance the season while protecting the ecosystem from invasive plant pests.

Emerald Coast Home Show Includes Lawn & Landscape Seminars

Emerald Coast Home Show Includes Lawn & Landscape Seminars

The Emerald Coast Home Show, Health Fair and Business Expo will include lawn and landscape seminars and an information booth hosted by the Okaloosa County Master Gardeners. This event will take place September 13 and 14 at the Emerald Coast Convention Center, 1250 Miracle Strip Parkway in Fort Walton Beach. The horticulture seminars will be provided by the UF/IFAS Extension Office in Okaloosa County.

mumsA feature of the Emerald Coast Home Show Health Fair and Business Expo will be an information booth hosted by the Okaloosa County Master Gardeners. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer your gardening questions and to distribute information pertinent to gardening and lawn care on the Gulf Coast.

In addition to an information booth hosted by Master Gardeners, free educational seminars will be provided. On Sunday, September 14, I will provide a one hour seminar at 1p.m. entitled “Preparing Your Lawn for Fall and Winter.” This presentation will answer questions concerning preparing your lawn for the dormant period of winter. What’s the truth about” winterizer” fertilizers? Do you need to “winterize” your lawn? How should you water your lawn through the fall and winter? Should you overseed your lawn with annual ryegrass? What should you do about winter weeds in your lawn? What lawn pests are active during fall and winter? Learn the answers to these questions and the truth about winter lawn care for North Florida by attending the Preparing Your Lawn for Fall and Winter seminar.

The complete schedule of free seminars includes the following.

Saturday, September 13
11a.m.  Margaret Stewart – Herbs, growing, using and preserving
1p.m.   Scott Berry – Orchid basics
3 p.m.   Karen Kirk-Williams – Great plants for fall and winter color

Sunday, September 14
1 p.m.   Larry Williams – Preparing Your Lawn for Fall and Winter
2 p.m.   Marie Harrison – Help! Pollinators in peril

The Emerald Coast Home Show, Health Fair and Business Expo will be open September 13 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and September 14 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and offers free admission, door prizes and giveaway items along with 100 vendors and free health care evaluations.

Visit for more information.