Class C Noxious Weed
Tree-of-heaven is a fast growing tree with origins in China and Taiwan. Ailanthus altissima was introduced into the U.S. in 1784. Initially valued as an ornamental tree, it was widely planted in urban areas of the eastern U.S. Chinese immigrants are believed to have planted tree-of-heaven on the West Coast for its cultural significance. It has since spread and become naturalized across much of the country, invading urban, agricultural and forested areas. It has the potential to establish in every state and has been found on every continent except Antarctica.
Tree-of-heaven is drought tolerant and grows rapidly to reach heights of 80 feet or more. It tends to grow in dense colonies or clones, that displace native species. Bark is green and smooth when young, maturing to light brown to gray, resembling a cantaloupe. Leaves extend from a central stem with 10-40 leaflets attached on either side. Leaflets have mostly smooth edges. The seeds on a female tree are a 1-2 inch twisted samara, or wing. With one seed per samara, the samaras grow in clusters, often remaining on the tree through winter. Female trees have the potential to produce more than 300,000 seeds per year.
Cutting or mowing tree-of-heaven is ineffective as a control option. Established trees have extensive root systems that continually spread by sending up root suckers, particularly when damaged. Suckers can emerge 50 feet or more from the parent tree. Targeting the extensive root system over multiple years will be necessary to effectively control tree-of-heaven. Contact us if you have questions about controlling this invasive species.
Download our printable PDF with more information about tree-of-heaven and best management practices for controlling it.
Tree-of-heaven colony at Sacajawea State Park. Staff have been conducting control work since 2020 (Oct 2020).
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