Tree-of-heaven, not so heavenly!

Tree-of-heaven

Photo credit : Paul Wray

Tree- of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), historically planted in urban landscapes and the inspiration for the title of the 1945 novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, is threatening many of Ohio’s native forests.  Originating from China and Taiwan, tree-of-heaven is often confused with our native sumacs.   However, it can be easily distinguished by its distinct foul odor. It also typically has much longer leaves (up to 6 feet) and attains a much larger size (3 feet in diameter) than our native sumacs. 

Seed pods

Seed pods
Photo credit: Karan Rawlins

Late fall and early winter is a perfect time to identify tree-of-heaven on your property because it holds on to its seed pods until after all the leaves of the trees have fallen off.

This non-native invasive plant is a very aggressive competitor.  The average female tree-of-heaven is capable of producing hundreds of thousands of seeds per year, and to make matters worse it aggressively sprouts when it is cut.  Its seeds can travel great distances in the wind making tree- of-heaven is very effective at becoming established along forest edges, in forest openings and especially in recently harvested woodlands.   Once it becomes established, it can rapidly spread and displace many native tree, shrub and herbaceous plant species.  If left unchecked, tree-of-heaven can negatively impact your forest’s ability to provide recreation, wildlife, timber and other benefits that you desire.

So what do you do if you think you’ve got tree-of heaven on your property?

  • If you’re not sure, collect a sample and get confirmation.  Your local Ohio State University Extension or Soil and Water Conservation District offices are a great place to start. 
  • Secondly, determine the extent of the infestation. You may want to seek assistance from your local Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Service Forester or a consulting forester.
  • Evaluate your treatment options!  Although it often requires follow up treatment, there are several herbicide treatment options available.  Controlling Non-Native Invasive Plants in Ohio Forests: Ailanthus”, Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet, F-65-09 provides a detailed description of many of the treatment options available to woodland owners.  
  • Keep informed!  A fungal wilt disease, which has been killing tree-of-heaven in Pennsylvania for nearly a decade, was recently found in Ohio providing hope for an effective biological control in the future.

For more information about tree-of-heaven and other non-native exotic plants contact Eric Boyda at 740-534-6578 or appalachainohioweeds@gmail.com.

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About appalachianohioweeds

My name is Eric Boyda and I am the current coordinator of the Appalachian Ohio Weed Control Partnership. My interests include increasing the awareness of invasive plants and helping individuals or groups plan control strategies.

Posted on November 28, 2012, in Species profiles and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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