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Jackson: Tree of Heaven not heavenly

Article from Jackson, Ohio about Tree of Heaven from the Telegram

Ailanthus tree’s status as invasive species offers lesson in human interaction

Researchers point to ailanthus as a prime example of the dangerous unpredictability of a non-native plant’s introduction to habitats and humans’ inadvertent aid in its spread and domination.

Phenology updates: Mile-a-minute, Oriental bittersweet, Tree of heaven, Privet, and Ivy


Mile-a-minute (Persicaria perfoliata) – [plant with triangular leaves] seedlings growing. Please note, AOWCP is still tracking populations of this species.  If you see any please report it to


Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) – seedling (above), flower buds (below)



Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) – leaf out


Privets (Ligustrum spp.) – flower buds forming


Ivy – (Hedera spp.) – Interesting set of photos demonstrating why it might not be a good idea to landscape with ivy.  This ivy happens to be growing behind the siding.  Second photo is almost 4 feet above the ground


Tree-of-heaven, not so heavenly!


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