MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - A harmless looking tree is wrecking Mississippi eco-systems, and the Mississippi Forestry Commission is trying to stop the invasive species from spreading any further in the state.
MFC and Plan-It Geo recently launched a new online tool for communities and individuals to report sightings of the Chinese Tallow, also known as the "Popcorn" tree.
The tree was planted several years ago as ornamental plants for residential yards, but it has now adapted to the South Mississippi environment.
According to Todd Matthews, Urban Forestry & Forest Health Coordinator, no one who planted the tree knew the deadly effects, and it is now destroying all vegetation in its path.
The trees may look harmless, but they are one of the top 10 worst invasive weeds in Mississippi.
"Popcorn trees are deceptive, they look attractive and ornamental - but are actually highly invasive and will quickly damage the native ecosystem wherever they are planted," Matthews said. "By reporting the location of these trees, you can help the Mississippi Forestry Commission get a full picture of Mississippi's Popcorn Tree problem, which is the first step to combating the spread of this invasive species."
The trees spread like wildfire, overtaking native vegetation, damaging wildlife habitats, and destroying nature's balance, according to MFC.
Popcorn trees have distinct heart-shaped leaves, dangling yellow flowers, and fruit that appears like popcorn.
If ingested, that fruit can make humans sick, and even kill animals.
"It can cause nausea and sickness in humans, " Matthews said. "It is toxic to cattle. The fruit and leaves have high silica content that can be deadly."
Although the infestation in the state is bad, Matthews said it is still containable with the help of residents reporting plants seen around their areas.
"We want people to start taking these down now before it becomes an epidemic," Matthews said. "It's bad now, but if we don't do something now the future will be terrible."
Matthews said that anyone who drives down a South Mississippi road will see a popcorn tree.
"All it takes is one tree to take over," Matthews said. "You may not see the impact in your own yard, but it could negatively affect your neighbor."
Those with trees on their property can contact the Mississippi Forestry Commission or visit www.HelpStopThePop.com.
The website serves as a resource guide to stop the spread of the invasive species. There is no software installation needed to report a sighting, only your web browser.