Eastern Forest Threat Center - Tree-of-Heaven

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Tree of heaven in July

Tree of heaven in July

James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Tree-of-Heaven
Ailanthus altissima

Tree-of-heaven is native to eastern and central China. It was valued for its use as a horticultural specimen, a street tree, and a shade tree, after its introduction into the U.S. in 1784.

Keywords: Simaroubaceae, deciduous, tree, winged fruit, odor; Common names: Chinese sumac, stinking sumac, ailanthus, copal tree, varnish tree, paradise tree

Distribution Map Distribution Source Image

Threat Description

Tree-of-heaven is a rapidly growing, deciduous tree in the mostly tropical quassia family. Mature trees can reach 80 ft. or more in height. It has smooth stems with pale gray bark, light chestnut brown twigs, and large compound leaves. Small yellow-green flowers with 5-6 petals are borne in dense clusters near the ends of the upper stems. The tree’s pink to tan fruit is winged with a single seed in the middle. All parts of the tree, especially the flowers, have a strong, offensive odor similar to peanuts or cashews. Tree-of-heaven reproduces from prolific wind- and water-dispersed seeds and from numerous root suckers that allow it to re-sprout vigorously from cut stumps and root fragments. Tree-of-heaven occupies disturbed soils, fields, roadsides, fencerows, woodland edges, forest openings, and rocky areas; it is not found in wetlands or shaded areas. It thrives in poor soils and tolerates pollution. Tree-of-heaven grows rapidly and once established, forms dense stands and impenetrable thickets that can overrun native vegetation. It also produces toxins that prevent the establishment of other plant species.