How to Grow Sapium – Tallow Tree 

Sapium leaves in autumn
Sapium leaves in autumn

Sapium–commonly called tallow tree–is a poplar-like tree grown for shade in subtropical and tropical regions. Leaves are mid-green from spring through summer; they turn yellow-red in autumn. Sapium has a rounded habit; it has a broadly wedge-shaped trunk.

Sapium grows to 40 feet (12m) tall and 20 feet (6m) wide. It tends toward shrubbiness and multi-trunks but is easily trained to a single trunk. Foliage is dense but airy; leaves flutter in a light breeze. Branches can freeze and die back in cold winters.

Sapium is grown commercially for its milky sap used in the production of candles and soap, thus the common name tallow tree.

Sapium is a genus of more than 100 species of deciduous trees and shrubs from tropical and subtropical regions.

Sapium autumn leaves

Get to Know Sapium 

  • Plant type: Monoecious, deciduous trees and shrubs 
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 8-10
  • Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 8
  • Height and width: To 40 feet (12m) tall and 15-20 feet (5-6m) wide 
  • Growth rate: Fast 
  • Form and habit: Rounded
  • Foliage: Alternate, hairless, and mid-green leaves; leaves are tapering to a slender point; fall color varies from yellow to brilliant red; foliage is dense, but general affect is airy 
  • Flowers: Petal-less yellow flowers are borne on terminal spikes, with the males in three beneath the bracts and the females singly at the top of the spikes 
  • Fruits: .5 inch (1cm) capsules, which split open to reveal waxy white seeds that cling for months  
  • Bloom time: Late spring and summer
  • Uses: Shade, back of the shrub border, lawn, specimen, street, patio, terrace, screen 
  • Common name: Tallow tree 
  • Botanical name: Sapium 
  • Family name: Euphorbiaceae 
  • Origin: Tropical and subtropical regions 

Where to Plant Sapium 

  • Plant Sapium in full sun.  
  • Plant Sapium in fertile, well-drained soil; however, Sapium grows in almost any soil.   

When to Plant Sapium 

  • Sow Sapium seed in situ in spring. 
  • Some can be grafted onto seedling rootstocks.

Planting and Spacing Sapium 

  • Sapium resent transplanting.  
  • Plant Sapium 15-20 feet (5-6m) apart. 

How to Water and Feed Sapium 

  • Give Sapium regular water. 
  • Feed Sapium with an all-purpose organic fertilizer in spring. 

How to Care for Sapium 

  • Sapium tend toward shrubbiness, multiple trunks, and suckering, but are easily trained to a single trunk. 
  • Prune young Sapium only to correct shape in winter; old trees rarely need pruning. 
  • In colder areas, unripened branch tips freeze back each winter; new growth quickly covers damage, but may require thinning.  
  • Stake young plants securely. 

Sapium Pests and Diseases 

  • Pests and diseases are infrequent. 

Sapium Propagation 

  • Take semi-ripe Sapium cuttings in summer.  
  • Propagate selected forms by grafting onto seedling rootstocks. 

Sapium Varieties to Grow 

  • Sapium sebiferum, Chinese tallow tree, Vegetable tallow tree, poplar-like tree with ovate-diamond-shaped, long-pointed, mid-green leaves, to 3 inches (8cm) long, with broadly wedge-shapd or truncated bases and turning yellow-red in autumn. Terminal spikes, 2-4 inches (5-10cm) long, of tiny, yellow-green flowers are borne in spring, followed by 3-lobed, brown fruit, .5 inch (1.5cm) across, which open to reveal white-waxy seeds. To 40 feet (12m) tall and 15-20 feet (5-6m) wide. China, Japan.  

Giant Caucasian wingnut tree

How to Grow Pterocarya – Wingnut

Sassafras leaves in autumn

How to Grow Sassafras