Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Aiken's Weather Suits Tung to a T

Aiken city horticulturist Tom Rapp tells me he had several problems when trying to replace the Bradford Pear trees planted up the Laurens Street Hill near Aiken's famous fountain. Bradford Pears, though quite eye-catching, tend to split as those trees did, so he didn’t want to plant more of them. Bell South had a large line under the planting strip and recommended that the city not plant any big trees there.

Tom searched for something unusual that would be attractive, fairly drought tolerant and hardy and that could take whatever stress might come from standing so near the street. Aleurites fordii, or Tung Oil tree, was his pick, and that it what is planted there today. Though they look a little scrawny now, they promise to spiff up that spot come spring.

According to Floridata, a website that gives in-depth information about many flowers, trees and shrubs that grow in Florida, Tung Oil trees grow best where summers are long and hot and temperatures are consistently warm day and night throughout the growing season. Aiken sounds like the perfect spot.

The Tung Oil tree is a spreading round-crowned deciduous tree that should grow to about twelve to twenty feet tall. If you’ve ridden by, you can see the leaves are large (3-5 inches) and heart shaped. In the spring, before the tree leafs out, we can expect to see creamy colored blooms, growing in clusters.

After they’re pollinated by honeybees, the female flowers develop into two to three inch round fruit that contains nut-like seeds. The oil from these seeds is used as a waterproof coating for wood and as a drying agent for paints and varnishes. It has many other industrial uses.

Tung Oil trees like slightly acidic soil, thoughthey will tolerate a wide range of soil types.

All parts of the tree, especially the fruit, are toxic.

Like the Bradford Pear, this Tung Oil tree promises a handsome display to announce the arrival of spring.

On a visit last year at the home of Gloria Farmer, mother of well-known South Carolina horticulturist Jenks Farmer, Jenks cut open a Tung Oil fruit to show the valuable seed inside.