Tree of Heaven: The Devil’s Work

Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima, Anderson (10/18/17) Gabriel Leete

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)  is less angelic than it is the devil’s work.

It is one of many invasive, non-native species that, once established, takes over the natural landscape preventing native trees from growing.

While beautiful in autumn with its bright red color, Tree of Heaven will produce over 52 million seeds during its 100-year life.

That’s much more than other trees like maples and oaks. And, while oaks will take decades to produce acorns, Ailanthus produce viable seeds in just a few years.

Modern Farmer writes that “the book,  A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, was about an Ailanthus, using its ability to thrive in cement or garbage, with poor soil, poor light, and poor water supply, as a metaphor.

“If you cut it down, it’ll regrow from its own roots. It also blocks out native plants, altering local ecosystems, partly because it grows so fast and efficiently, and partly because it is allelopathic, meaning that it produces chemicals that inhibit the growth of nearby plants. It isn’t content to just box out native plants; it cheats.”

Native to China, Ailanthus is prized there for its use in traditional Chinese medicines and as a habitat for silk worms.

However, here it has only ornamental value and takes over habitat that would otherwise be populated by native species.

Modern Farmer writes, “Currently, there are no easy options (to eradicate them); some solutions involve hacking notches into the trunk with a machete before applying herbicide, or pulling out the entire root system of younger trees.”

So, enjoy the beauty of Tree of Heaven, but don’t encourage them. There really are devils beneath those angels’ wings.