Leaves of Chinese tallow | Photo credit: Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org
Chinese tallow - also called popcorn tree or vegetable tallow - is a non-native member of the Euphorbiaceae family (spurges). It was first imported from China in 1772 (by Benjamin Franklin), and has since invaded natural ecosystems throughout much of the Southeast.
While primarily grown as an ornamental shade or street tree, tallow easily escapes captivity and rapidly takes over plant communities by producing many seeds and root-sprouts. It is tolerant of wet and dry conditions, and even grows well in salty areas. The trees are also resistant to fire.
Note: This plant is often still listed under the older scientific name of Sapium sebiferum.