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AILANTHUS altissima

Image of Ailanthus altissima

Jesse Saylor

Family

Simaroubaceae

Botanical Name

AILANTHUS altissima

Plant Common Name

Tree-of-Heaven

General Description

Those who know this tree know it is anything but heavenly. Tree-of-heaven is a pervasive, aggressive, fast-growing weed tree with an extensive root system that’s notorious for damaging mortar and building foundations. The roots also emit a chemical that reduces growth and seed germination of other plants growing nearby. Tree-of-heaven originates from China and Taiwan, but has become naturalized in temperate areas across the globe. Specimens are weak-wooded, short-lived and develop a broad, arching canopy.

The large, compound leaves of this tree are deep green, coarsely ferny and have a malodorous smell reminiscent of burnt rubber and peanut butter. Each leaf can have as many as 25 lance-shaped leaflets. This species is mostly dioecious, which means trees produce either male or female flowers, though some trees may have perfect, or bisexual, flowers. The tiny, greenish yellow flowers bloom in spring or summer, depending on geography, and the male flowers emit a foul odor. Bees, beetles and other insects pollinate the blooms. The females produce massive clusters of papery pink or reddish brown seeds. Thousands of the winged seeds (samaras) are produced and germinate quickly and easily. The brittle stems and trunk are covered with smooth gray bark with lighter gray vertical cracks.

This tree grows just about anywhere, so long as the site has full to partial sun and soil that doesn't get too wet. It is dubbed “tree-of-heaven” because it grows well in tough, disturbed, polluted, urban landscapes where most trees won’t. It can withstand compact soil, rocky spots, hot concrete medians and other harsh locations. Refrain from growing tree-of-heaven, or choose seedless male trees that won't spread.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    8 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    4 - 8

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade

  • Height

    40'-75' / 12.2m - 22.9m

  • Width

    35'-50' / 10.7m - 15.2m

  • Bloom Time

    Spring, Late Spring, Early Summer, Summer

  • Native To

    China

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Average

  • Soil type

    Clay, Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Pollution, Drought, Salt, Soil Compaction

  • Growth Rate

    Fast

  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant, Average Water

  • Habit

    Arching/Fountain-shaped

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Insignificant

  • Flower Color

    Yellow Green, Light Green

  • Fruit Color

    Pink, Light Green, Sienna

  • Fruit Color Modifier

    Multi-Color

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Dark Green

  • Bark Color

    Gray

  • Fragrant Flowers

    Yes

  • Fragrant Fruit

    Yes

  • Fragrant Foliage

    Yes

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    Yes

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Coarse

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    Yes

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Smooth

  • Usage

    Shade Trees, Street Trees

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    Yes

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes