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tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

Posted in Species Profiles


Picture of tree of heaven's long leaves and flower clusters.

Description: Tree of heaven is a rapidly growing deciduous tree reaching heights of up to 80 feet. It can be mistaken for sumac when young, and for walnut when mature, but a close look at the leaves, bark, and fruit will readily distinguish it. The compound leaves alternate along the stem, but the 16-25 pairs of leaflets are opposite. The base of each leaflet has one or two small ear-like flaps (auricle).Tree of heaven is known for its strong, unpleasant odor.


Habitat: Tree of heaven grows well in harsh urban environmental conditions, but also invades forests and riparian zones.

Invasive Traits: Prolific seeding and rapid growth are the keys to tree of heaven’s competitive advantage in open areas and forests. It sprouts prolifically from the roots when the trunk is damaged. Tree of heaven’s roots produce allelopathic compunds which prevent the establishment of other plants near it.

Control: Seedlings can be removed by pulling or digging only if the root system is completely removed. Developed saplings or trees are more effectively treated with chemicals. Trunks can be cut then coated with a systemic herbicide to kill the remaing root system. Foliar spray can be effective, but the trees grow very quickly, so the opportunity to spray while the plant is low-growing is very limited..

Further Reading

Midwest Invasive Plant Network “Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altisima)”

Swearingen & Pannil 2009

Photo Credits
  1. Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,
  2. Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,
  3. Vern Wilkins, Indiana University,
  4. Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,
  5. Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,
  6. Cleveland Metroparks
  7. Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,
  8. Cleveland Metroparks