An overview of Triadica sebifera (Chinese Tallowtree) in the southern United States, emphasizing pollinator impacts and classical biological control.
Throughout history a great many plant species have been purposefully transported to new areas around the globe. Horticulture, the promise of new sources of plant material for industry, forage, food, and stabilization of soil are only a few of the motives for the early transcontinental exchange of plants. Many introductions have been beneficial or benign, but some plants introduced into new areas are now considered invasive and detrimentally impact the environment. Triadica sebifera (Chinese Tallowtree; Euphorbiaceae) is an excellent example of the best intentions leading to unanticipated negative effects many decades later. Native to eastern Asia and now naturalized and widespread in many tropical, subtropical, and temperate areas in the world, Chinese Tallowtree has proven to be one of the worst woody invasive plants. It is known for shading out native vegetation, capable of dominating areas following disturbance or even invading previously diverse undisturbed habitats. It is prevalent in the southern United States, especially along the Gulf Coast. Investigations into classical biological control of Chinese Tallowtree have yielded at least 2 promising candidates but have raised objections among beekeepers and beekeeping organizations who prize the quality honey produced from an abundant spring nectar flow. In this overview, we discuss Chinese Tallowtree’s invasive characteristics, detrimental effects, potential use as a biomass crop, and demonstrated or potential direct and indirect effects on native and non-native pollinators. We review the current state of identification and screening of biological control agents and present 4 research topics that are would fill gaps in our knowledge of Chinese Tallowtree and pollinators. Classical biological control has the potential to reduce Chinese Tallowtree populations across the landscape, which would likely result in greater understory and tree diversity, benefitting native and exotic pollinators.