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How Did the Tallow Tree Get a Foothold in the U.S.

Making It Grow Minute
SC Public Radio

Good intentions, from Ben Franklin to the USDA played a part.

In 1772, Benjamin Franklin sent tallow tree seeds from Europe to John Bartram and others and the tree was disseminated widely but was not considered invasive. Unfortunately, in the early nineteen hundreds,the USDA extolled planting it in southeastern states as a source of tallow to make soap. The waxy exterior coating of the seeds is a good source of tallow which can be used to make soap, candles, and sometimes cooking oils. In Asia there are records dating back to the seven hundreds, common era, of its being used for many purposes. Southern farmers followed by government’s advice and planted myriad tallow tree seeds, however, the hoped for soap industry never got established. But the damage was done. Seeds were moved by birds or by water and they’ve become the dominant species in thousands of acres, displacing natives.

Amanda McNulty is a Clemson University Extension Horticulture agent and the host of South Carolina ETV’s Making It Grow! gardening program. She studied horticulture at Clemson University as a non-traditional student. “I’m so fortunate that my early attempts at getting a degree got side tracked as I’m a lot better at getting dirty in the garden than practicing diplomacy!” McNulty also studied at South Carolina State University and earned a graduate degree in teaching there.