1. Vernicia fordii (Hemsley) Airy Shaw, Kew Bull. 20: 394. 1967.
[F I W]
Tung-oil tree Tung-oil tree
Aleurites fordii Hemsley, Bull. Misc. Inform. Kew 1906: 120. 1906
Trees, to 10[–20] m. Leaves: stipules 4–12 mm; petiole 6–22 cm, with pair of round, sessile, cushion-shaped glands at apex; blade broadly ovate or triangular-ovate, 10–25 × 8–20 cm, usually unlobed, sometimes shallowly 3-lobed, base cordate, truncate, or rounded, apex acuminate, both surfaces moderately to sparsely hairy, hairs appressed. Inflorescences 6–15 × 6–20 cm, often branching from near base, branches to 15 cm. Pedicels 1–2 cm. Staminate flowers: sepals green to purplish, 10–12 mm; petals white or pale pink with dark pink to red veins proximally, sometimes yellow basally, obovate, 25–35(–40) × 15–20 mm, narrowed at base; nectary glands awl-shaped to strap-shaped; stamens in outer whorl 8 mm, in inner whorl 13 mm, connate 1/2–2/3 length. Pistillate flowers: sepals and petals as in staminate flowers; ovary hairy. Capsules subglobose, 4–6 cm diam., smooth, glabrous or glabrate, short stipitate, apex apiculate. Seeds 2.5–3 × 2 cm, surface warty, ridged. 2n = 22 (China).
Flowering Mar–Apr; fruiting Apr–Aug. Wood and field margins, abandoned fields, roadsides, disturbed woods; 0–150 m; introduced; Ala., Ark., Fla., Ga., La., Miss., N.C., S.C., Tex.; se Asia; introduced also in Australia.
Vernicia fordii was cultivated for its seed oil in plantations along the Gulf coast from Florida to Texas from the 1920s to the 1960s. Although no longer commercially cultivated in the southeastern United States, it is naturalized there and is now listed as an invasive weed in Florida. All parts of the plant are poisonous; seeds have strong purgative properties and may cause poisoning if eaten.