KNOXVILLE, TN A study by a USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station scientist shows the numbers of nonnative Chinese tallowtree in Louisiana, Mississippi and east Texas grew by about 370 percent over a 16-year period. The spread of the invasive plant may create problems for plants and wildlife along the Gulf coast.
Tallowtree is a deciduous plant with heart-shaped leaves that grows to 60 feet in height. It invades stream banks, riverbanks and wet areas like ditches as well as upland sites. Large seeds containing oil are spread by numerous large bird species. The tree is native to China and was introduced to South Carolina in the 1700s. There are approximately 457,000 acres of tallowtree in nine of the 13 southern states. Experts say tallowtree can change the chemical properties of soil and alter the composition and structure of native plant communities. Additionally, litter from the plant may alter habitat in invaded wetland areas, which could affect some frog and other amphibian species.
"I examined Forest Inventory and Analysis data from plots measured in the 1990s and within the last five years and found the increase in tallowtree to be dramatic across the three states," said Sonja Oswalt, a research forester with the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program based in Knoxville, TN. "For example, between 1991 and 2005, the number of tallowtree plants in Louisiana increased by more than 500 percent."
From 1994 to 2006, the number of tallowtree plants increased by 445 percent in Mississippi. In east Texas, the number increased by 174 percent between 1992 and 2007.
The total number for Chinese tallowtree in Louisiana grew from a maximum of 46 million stems (plants that were one inch or greater in diameter) in 1991 to a maximum of 280 million in 2005. In Mississippi, the number grew from a maximum of 9 million in 1994 to a maximum of 49 million in 2006. In east Texas, the number of individual tallowtree plants grew fr
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USDA Forest Service ‑ Southern Research Station