You might have heard about tung oil and its various uses. This oil, which is extracted from the seeds of tung tree is used as a drying oil that gets hardened, when exposed to air. As this oil can be used as a transparent and waterproof coating, pure tung oil is widely used for applications like wood finishing and is also an ingredient in various products like oil paints and printing inks. Tung oil tree is native to the western regions of China but, is now grown in other parts of the world too. Apart from its commercial uses, this tree is also popular for ornamental purposes too.
Tung Oil Tree Facts
As mentioned above, this tree is native to China and is found in the subtropical rocky areas in the western parts of the country. The scientific name of this medium-sized tree is Vernicia fordii, which is also known as Aleurites fordii. The tree has various other names like kalo nut tree, China wood oil tree and tung tree. It belongs to the genus Vernicia in the family Euphorbiaceae.
Characteristics of Tung Oil Tree
These trees are medium-sized with a maximum height of around twenty meters. They are usually found to have a smooth bark and a spreading crown. The brownish gray bark is thin and emits milky white sap, when cut. One of the characteristic features of this deciduous tree is the heart-shaped, dark green leaves. Some of these leaves are found to have three shallow lobes. The size of the leaves may vary from 5 to 25 centimeters in length and 4 to 22 centimeters in breadth. They have reddish green petioles with a length of around 5 to 25 centimeters.
Another feature of this tree is the petiole glands on the base of the leaves. Each leaf has two such small red glands at its base. These leaves are alternate and are also deeply veined. During autumn, the foliage turns yellow and in spring the tung oil tree will be filled with clusters of flowers that are mostly pink or peach colored with streaks of red. The flowers may appear, even before the emergence of the leaves. The dark green (sometimes, can be greenish purple too) fruits of this tree are pear-shaped. Each fruit contains oily seeds that can be around 1 to 15 in number. They get ripe in autumn and turns yellowish brown in color.
Tung Oil Tree Uses
Now you know that tung oil tree is mainly grown for the oil extracted from the seeds. It is also grown as an ornamental tree, as it has colorful autumn foliage and beautiful spring flowers. Even the dark green summer leaves of this tree can be an added attraction. But almost all parts of the tree are poisonous, especially, the seeds. Ingestion of the seeds can be life-threatening and the symptoms of tung tree poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, poor reflexes, slow breathing and fatigue. Even touching the leaves of this tree may sometimes cause skin rash, which may resemble skin reactions caused by poison ivy toxicity. Animals like cattle, horse and even birds may get poisoned by this tree.
In short, tung tree is grown for both commercial as well as ornamental uses. This tree is now found in large numbers in different parts of the world. In some regions, they are found to become invasive species too. So, if you want to grow them for ornamental purposes, gain a thorough understanding about these trees beforehand.