Brazos Bend State Park
Volunteer Organization   
Gator Hatch

Twelve Trees of Brazos Bend State Park


Sapium sebiferum

DECIDIOUS—Attains a height of 50 feet.

LEAVES: Simple and alternate. Leaf is oval shaped with a long pointed tip and wedge shaped base. They are 2-3 1/2 “ long and 1-3” broad, deep green above, paler below, smooth edges. Leaves turn yellow, orange or red in winter before falling. Leaves and branches contain milky sap. Sap is poisonous and toxic to cattle.

BARK: Brownish gray broken into flattened ridges.

FLOWERS: Male on 2-3” yellow green catkins, female flowers appear at the base of the cluster. Bloom in May or June.

FRUIT: Three lobed capsule, green turning brown when ripe. Capsule splits into three (outer shells will fall off) revealing three white seeds.

This native of China will grow in most types of soil, however, will not tolerate very cold or arid conditions. It is an invasive species and here at Brazos Bend we are trying to eradicate it. It replaces the native vegetation thus reducing native species diversity. It is said that Benjamin Franklin imported the first tree from China. The white wax covering the seeds is used in China to make soap, candles and cloth dressing. In the early 1900s the Foreign Plant Introduction Division of U. S. Dept. of Agriculture promoted planting this tree in Gulf Coast states to establish a local soap industry. This project failed. During the Second World War seeds were gathered to obtain the oil from them to be used in paint. Teas Nursery is said to have imported Tallow to be used as an ornamental in Houston gardens because of the colorful fall foliage. That is its principal use now.

The wood is white and close grained and suitable for carving. Honeybees make a light colored honey from the tallow nectar.

Updated: Aug 12, 2011