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if kudzu was a tree with chemical weapons

2003-04-22 - 4:23 p.m.

pest species Chinese tallow tree

close-up of leaves of tallow tree closeup of seeds leading to the nickname Popcorn tree

all photos by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved
It's Earth Day, and somehow I find myself pondering that not all trees are on the side of the angels. The evil species photographed above, the Chinese tallow tree, sometimes known as Popcorn tree, is probably all very well and good in its place, which is several thousand miles away, but here in Louisiana, it apparently puts some acid or poison into the soil to prevent native trees from growing. A forest can be reduced to a single species Chinese tallow forest in as little as 30 years if it is not controlled. Cutting it down is not good enough, for it grows back from the cut root like the hydra.

I used to have one that grew right up against the house, where it was apparently going for the trifecta of being a lightning hazard, a fire hazard, and a termite hazard all rolled into one vicious little ball of green. Every year I cut it down or, more precisely, I inveigled a strong man such as D. or BF to cut it down. Every year it grew back taller than the house. Much mumbling and grumbling was heard in the land.

Then I learned the secret from Sara Stein's Planting Noah's Garden: Further Adventures in Backyard Ecology. Upon cutting the tree down, within 10 minutes of chopping down the main trunk, I painted concentrated glysophate-based herbicide (such as Round-up) on the cut place. Victory at last. Three years have passed, and I am starting to feel comfortable that this particular tree will no longer provide a living proof of the miracle of resurrection.

On my own small property, I continue to keep a sharp eye out for Chinese tallow seedlings so that I can remove them as soon as I spot them. However, despite the fact that the state of Louisiana has supposedly spent millions on eradicating these pests, they are everywhere on private and public property. Most notoriously, there used to be one planted in front of the State Capitol, although I haven't checked lately to see if they finally removed it. I see them all the time in refuges and parks. They grow so fast and spread so aggressively that it's hard to keep on top of the problem, and the next thing you know, you have a 12 foot tree that needs to be dealt with. Occasionally, I've complained to staff, but I've always heard the same story -- they're trying, they're aware of the issue, they want to remove them, but they just can't keep ahead of them.

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