Sunday, April 10, 2011

Don’t Let the Cat Get Your Tung!

Don’t be fooled by the large, heart-shaped leaves.


Or the striking flowers, that I think resemble miniature hibiscus blooms.


100_3950Or the apple-like fruit. In the pictures above, you can see the young fruit just getting started. This one below is from last fall, so it is not green but almost black.


All parts of the tree are poisonous. But the leaves give some people rashes similar to poison ivy, while ingesting just one seed can kill an adult. Tung trees (Aleurites fordii) are natives of China

Tung oil is derived from the seeds of this fruit. It has been used for thousands of years in paint and water-proofing coatings. It is a component of India ink. I read that teak oil is actually refined tung oil and that in World War II, the Chinese used tung oil as motor fuel because it was so plentiful. I have read that it was also used in airplanes in the United States during that same time period.

For a few decades in our area, many acres of tung trees were grown and several refining plants were in operation. There was a community that is now known as Capps, that used to be called Tungston. Here is a picture  from the Florida archives of a worker in the mill at Capps in 1946. This machine pressed the oil from the nuts.

c005500 This picture from the 1930s shows a parade float at the Tung Oil Festival in Gainesville.


I know of no production of tung oil in our area now, though the trees are scattered about on this end of our county and the adjoining Jefferson County.

Some folks still plant them as ornamentals but I have been hesitant as it does not seem easy to have just one tree: they pop up everywhere.

And then there is that whole toxic thing.

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