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Darrell Blackwelder: Tree of Heaven turns out to be the opposite

You may have noticed tropical-like trees in full bloom on the edge of wooded areas, fields or roadsides. These very unusual trees are Ailanthus altissima or Tree of Heaven.

Its name is derived from a book “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith, in which she describes the tree as a metaphor about the “the seed’s ability to germinate and grow in any condition (even NY City) and grow towards the heavens.”

This unusual tree, originating in China, has become a very invasive plant. It was brought to the US by way of England in the late 1700s as an ornamental and for its Chinese medicinal benefits.
Unfortunately, the tree grows extremely fast, up to 8 feet in one year, and spreads rapidly both by seeds and root sprouts or suckers. The intense suckering makes this species tree highly invasive and a threat to our native trees.

Another interesting characteristic of the tree is the extremely unpleasant foul smell, like that of rancid peanut butter.

Control of the tree is not easy. Smaller seedlings and freshly cut stumps can successfully be treated with glyphosate (Roundup) concentrate. Bag the seed clusters and dispose of in heavy garbage bag to prevent spread of the tree.

Go to https://projects.ncsu.edu/goingnative/howto/mapping/invexse/treeofhe.html for more detailed information on growth and control of the Tree of Heaven.

Darrell Blackwelder deblackw@ncsu.edu is the retired horticulture agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.

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