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Forestry officials cite Tallow tree dangers

The Mississippi Forestry Commission is declaring war on aninvasive tree species, and the agency is encouraging Mississippiansto join in the fight.

Assistant Southwest District Forester Jim Phillips is asking theresidents of Lincoln and surrounding counties to take immediatemeasures to kill Chinese Tallow trees – otherwise known as popcorntrees – on sight. The species is listed on the commission’s topfive list of invasive species.

Phillips said the Asian imports are spreading out of control,threatening to muscle out several of the state’s native plantspecies by hogging up all the sunlight.

“The only thing we know of that eats Tallow seed is birds, andthat’s part of the problem,” he said. “Anywhere you look – fencelines, bottoms – these trees are spreading everywhere.”

Phillips said the trees grow and multiply quickly, standing tallover native species and dominating the understory – the low-lightarea of the forest beneath the canopy – making it difficult orimpossible for native saplings and shrubs to survive.

Many of the threatened plants, Phillips said, are food for thestate’s deer and turkey populations. The spread of the Tallow treemay eventually destroy several species of wildlife’s ecosystems, hesaid.

Tallow trees also pose a threat to property, Phillips said.

“When they get big and old, they’re very brittle,” he said.”There’s a high tendency that – if you park your car under it -you’re liable to get a limb in the middle of your windshield.”

Consequently, the trees have to go. Phillips said herbicideslike Roundup will do the job on sapling Tallows, while larger treesneed to be wounded and injected, best accomplished by chipping awaya section of the tree’s bark and applying the herbicide directly tothe bare wood. A good chainsaw will likewise do the job.

Phillips said killing the Tallow might be a challenge for yardfanciers, however. Despite its propensity for destruction, theTallow tree is an attractive one – especially this time of year,when its leaves are vibrant.

“Yes, it’s a beautiful tree, but what’s it doing to us?”Phillips proposed. “They look great in your yard, but they willspread miles around.”

Phillips said it is important to act quickly, as a strong windor rain will likely defoliate the Tallows, making it difficult toidentify. He said the Tallow, once grown, usually stands at around40-50 feet tall and has a girth of 12-14 inches.

Its leaves are relatively heart shaped, turning a deep red thistime of year and waxy to the touch. Puffy, white berries grow fromthe branches. Phillips said the Tallow usually doesn’t beginproducing seeds until it is 5 years old.

Tallows likely arrived in America as ornamental plants, Phillipssaid, and to that end they are successful. Anyone having troublekilling their Tallows at the moment of truth need only bear in mindthat the trees are listed behind Kudzu on the forestry commission’snoxious weeds list.

Perhaps the week-willed can have a friend like Phillips do thedirty work, who is definitely not afraid to strike the blow.

“My wife loves her Tallow tree, but it’s fixin’ to hit theground,” he said.