Tung Oil Tree : Vernicia fordii

 

 

The Tung oil tree, Vernicia fordii (formerly Aleurites fordii) is native to Southern China, Burma and Vietnam. Conspicuous red glands at the base of each leaf blade are unique to the species. Before leaves have fully emerged in spring the tree produces copius clusters of white flowers streaked red. In the fall the trees bear large fruits containing 4-5 seeds.  These seeds are filled with oil that is used in paints and varnish. Every part of the tree is toxic. In 1905 David Fairchild successfully introduced this tree to the Gulf Coast states. From the 1920s-50s the American Tung oil industry flourished, although under constant threat from hard freezes and storms. In 1969 plantations along the gulf coast were devastated by Hurricane Camille and never recovered.  These plantations persisted for many years allowing the trees to become naturalized throughout the region.  They are occasionally cultivated for their attractive flowers.  These trees are scattered across Avery Island.  In Jungle Gardens they are particularly noticeable growing on the rim of the Palm Garden path.

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