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Sapium sebiferum - (L.)Roxb.

Common Name Vegetable Tallow, Chinese tallow, Popcorn Tree, Chinese Tallow Tree
Family Euphorbiaceae
USDA hardiness 8-11
Known Hazards The sap is poisonous[200].
Habitats Found wild in the foothills around Dehra Dun[146].
Range E. Asia - China, Japan, Himalayas.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (0 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Half Hardy Moist Soil Full sun
Sapium sebiferum Vegetable Tallow, Chinese tallow, Popcorn Tree, Chinese Tallow Tree

Sapium sebiferum Vegetable Tallow, Chinese tallow, Popcorn Tree, Chinese Tallow Tree


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Bloom Color: Yellow. Main Bloom Time: Early spring, Late spring, Mid spring. Form: Oval.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of lolypop
Sapium sebiferum is a deciduous Tree growing to 9 m (29ft) by 5 m (16ft) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 9. It is in flower from January to February, and the seeds ripen in November. The species is monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and is pollinated by Insects, bees.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in saline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.


Triadica sebifera. Croton sebiferus. Stillingia sebifera.


Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; South Wall. By. West Wall. By.

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Oil;  Oil.
Edible Uses: Oil;  Oil.

The wax from the seed is used as a lard substitute or in cacao butter[105, 183]. The seed contains 8.1 - 9.2% protein and 40.5 - 50.7% fat[218].

Medicinal Uses

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Acrid;  Antidote;  Depurative;  Diuretic;  Emetic;  Hydrogogue;  Laxative;  Purgative;  
Skin;  Vesicant.

The leaves and the roots are depurative, diuretic and laxative[4, 147, 178]. A decoction is used in the treatment of oedema, constipation, poisoning by two plants - Polygonum perfoliatum and Tripterygium wilfordii, skin diseases etc[147, 218]. The leaves are particularly useful for treating boils[218]. The seed is antidote, emetic, hydragogue and purgative[218]. In China it is taken internally, which is a rather questionable practice considering its toxic nature[218]. The root bark is diuretic[218]. It is used in the treatment of snake bites and skin ulcers[218]. The juice of the tree (the sap is probably meant here[K]) is acrid and vesicant[240].

Other Uses

Compost;  Dye;  Fuel;  Hair;  Incense;  Oil;  Oil;  Soil stabilization;  Tannin;  Wax;  Wood.

The seed is coated with a wax. This wax, which comprises about 24% of the seed[269], can be used to make candles and soap[1, 4, 11, 46, 103, 171]. It has excellent burning quality, and gives an inodorous clear bright flame[269]. The wax is also used for making soap, cloth dressing and fuel[269]. Pure tallow fat is known in commerce as Pi-yu[269]. The wax is separated from the seed by steeping it in hot water and skimming off the wax as it floats to the surface[146, 158]. The wax is solid at temperatures below 40°c[146]. It is said to change grey hair to black[218]. The seed contains about 20% of a drying oil[269]. It is used to make candles and soap[11, 146, 158]. The oil is used in making varnishes and native paints because of its quick-drying properties[269]. It is also used in machine oils and as a crude lamp oil[269]. The pure oil expressed from the inner part of the seeds is known in commerce as Ting-yu[269]. The residual cake, after the oil is expressed, is used as manure, particularly for tobacco fields[269]. The leaves are rich in tannin[178], a black dye can be obtained by boiling them in alum water[103, 146, 158, 269].The plant is used as a soil binder along the sides of roads and canals[269]. The wood is white, even and close grained, light, soft or moderately hard[158, 269]. It is suitable for carving and is also used for making blocks in Chinese printing, furniture making and incense[269]. The wood is light and soft. It is used for fuel[269].

Cultivation details

Industrial Crop: Biomass;  Industrial Crop: Oil;  Management: Coppice;  Management: Standard;  Minor Global Crop;  Other Systems: Multistrata;  Other Systems: SRC;  Other Systems: Strip intercrop.

Landscape Uses:Pest tolerant, Aggressive surface roots possible. Succeeds in a sunny position in any well-drained soil[200]. Grows well on canal banks, steep mountain slopes, granite hills and sandy beaches, succeeding in alkaline, saline or acid soils[269]. It is said to thrive in alluvial forests, on low alluvial plains, and on rich leaf-molds, growing best in well-drained clayey-peat soils[269]. Requires the protection of a south or south-west wall when grown in areas at the limits of its hardiness[200]. Favourable climatic conditions are mean air temperatures of 12.5 to 30.1°C, and an annual precipitation from 130 to 370cm[269]. This tree is not reliably hardy in Britain, though it was successfully grown here in the 18th century[11]. It is able to withstand a few degrees of frost, but unripened twigs are particularly susceptible to frost injury[269]. It succeeds outdoors in the milder parts of Britain when grown in a woodland garden[166]. A fast-growing tree[188], it is much cultivated in warm temperate regions for its seeds which are a source of vegetable tallow, a drying oil and protein food[269]. The fruits yield two types of fats - the outer covering of the seeds contains a solid fat with a low iodine value and is known as Chinese Vegetable Tallow whilst the kernels produce a drying oil with high iodine value which is called Stillingia Oil[11, 109, 269]. Many named varietis have been developed in the Orient, especially in Taiwan, for improved oil production[269]. Plants require from 3 - 8 years to bear, but then continue to bear for an average of 70 - 100 years. They attain their full size in 10 - 12 years[269]. Yields of 14 tonnes of seed per hectare, containing 2.6 tonnes of oil and 2.8 tones of tallow have been achieved[269]. This yield could increase with age[269]. The plant has escaped from cultivation in N. America and has become a serious pest there, displacing native vegetation. It apparently produces root secretions that modify soil chemistry and discourage the establishment of native species[274]. Responds well to coppicing[146]. Special Features: Attracts birds, Not North American native, Invasive, Naturalizing, All or parts of this plant are poisonous, Wetlands plant, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms.


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Seed - do not cold stratify the seed since this can lead to secondary dormancy. Sown in April in a warm greenhouse, it usually germinates within 4 weeks[113]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Overwinter in a greenhouse for at least their first 2 winters and plant out in late spring. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame.

Other Names

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Found In

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Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

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Readers comment

cathy warren   Wed Apr 16 14:32:36 2003

This tree is considered invasive in my area (Houston, Texas, USA), as it rapidly and completely will overtake certain native and man-made marshlands. Government agencies responsible for management of constructed wetlands (required under certain circumstances by law) expend energy and funds in an attempt to eradicate this species from the area. Unfortunately, this tree produces copious amounts of seed and germinates easily.

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