The Chinese tallow tree, also known as the popcorn tree, is a deciduous tree native to China and widely cultivated in the southern United States for its ornamental value. Given its rapid growth, its shade-providing capabilities, and its beautiful foliage, it’s no wonder that the Chinese tallow tree has risen in popularity in recent years.
The Chinese tallow tree has many merits—but, is it suitable for bushcrafting activities like making a fire? In this guide, you’ll get to know the answer. Specifically, you’ll learn about the pros and cons of the Chinese tallow tree when it comes to using it as firewood. Let’s begin!
An Introduction to the Chinese Tallow Tree
The Chinese tallow tree is native to China, Taiwan, and Japan, and was first introduced to the United States in the late 1700s. It was originally grown as an ornamental plant, but due to its fast growth and adaptability, it quickly became naturalized in the southern United States.
In some areas, the Chinese tallow tree is now considered as an invasive species because it outcompetes native vegetation and creates monocultures. This can, admittedly, be a problem for the ecosystem—but for campers and buschrafters, the abundance of Chinese tallow is pretty useful as it makes for plenty of potential firewood.
The Suitability of Chinese Tallow As Firewood
Is the Chinese tallow tree easy for bushcrafters to find and use? How does the wood burn: quickly or for a long time? Does it produce smoke? All these questions are vital to consider when debating Chinese tallow’s suitability for making fire. Let’s now visit these questions in depth!
The wood of the Chinese tallow tree is relatively light and soft, which makes it easy to ignite. Its low density also means it burns quickly and produces a good amount of heat. For bushcrafters who are looking for a firewood that’s easy to light and provides quick heat, the Chinese tallow tree is an excellent choice.
However, there are some downsides to using the Chinese tallow tree as firewood. Although it burns quickly and produces a good amount of heat, it is not as efficient as other hardwoods, such as oak or hickory or maple, meaning it burns out more quickly. So if you want to sustain a fire easily for a long time, Chinese tallow might not be the best option.
Significantly, the Chinese tallow tree contains a very large amount of resin. This can make a fire give off more smoke as well as a strong, unpleasant odor. You might want to look for another type of wood, then, if you want to avoid smoke and smells. Also, you should know that the resin in Chinese tallow can stick to cooking utensils, making them difficult to clean. That’s not super practical when you’re out bushcrafting!
Another aspect to consider when using the Chinese tallow tree as firewood is its seasoning time. Since this tree is relatively soft, it has a high moisture content. That means it has to dry out for at least 6 months before it becomes suitable to use as firewood.
Thus, although the Chinese tallow tree grows fast and is plentiful in some places, you might find it difficult to locate pieces of it that have managed to dry out already. If you really want to save time and energy, another type of wood might be better for your fire.
The Chinese tallow tree is an invasive species in some areas, but there’s still a danger of you over-harvesting it. As with any type of wood, if you take too much of it, you could disrupt the local ecosystem and endanger certain flora and fauna.
Make sure, then, that you don’t take too much Chinese tallow from one area—or, if you’re obtaining your wood from a supplier, ensure they follow sustainable forestry practices, too.
Whichever way you source your Chinese tallow, you also need to make sure that you make your fire safely and responsibly. Make a specialized fire pit, don’t leave it unattended, and make sure to put your fire out completely when you’re done. A rekindling fire can prove fatal for the local environment.
Summary: Should You Use Chinese Tallow As Firewood?
The Chinese tallow tree can be used as firewood, but it isn’t the best option for camping and bushcrafting. Although it is easy to ignite and burns quickly, it burns out faster than other types of wood, gives off more smoke and smells, and can actually be quite difficult to source in the wild as it needs to have dried out for at least 6 months.
By all means, you can use Chinese tallow if those downsides don’t concern you or if it’s your only option. But, if you have the choice, you might enjoy a better experience making a fire with other types of hardwood like oak or maple. Feel free to test them all out for yourself to decide which you prefer.
I am Bruno. I write and lecture about bushcraft, survival, hiking, and nature experiences in general. I also produce short films on these topics as a director.
My wife Lilith and I try to travel as much as we can to discover the world! We wish to live in harmony with nature and preserve its ecosystems: Eden paradise is here now.
I want to open a door to reconnect with nature through this blog.