Tree of Heaven - Ailanthus altissima
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Ailanthus altissima, commonly known as tree of heaven, ailanthus, or in Chinese as chouchun (Chinese: ??; Pinyin: chòuch?n), is a deciduous tree in the quassia family (Simaroubaceae). It is native to northeast and central China as well as Taiwan. Unlike other members of the genus Ailanthus, it is found in temperate climates rather than the tropics. The tree grows rapidly and is capable of reaching heights of 15 metres (50 feet) in 25 years. However, the species is also short lived and rarely lives more than 50 years. Other common names include China sumac, copal tree, stink tree and ghetto palm.
A. altissima was first brought from China to Europe in the 1740s and to the United States in 1784. It was one of the first trees brought west during a time when chinoiserie was dominating European arts and was initially hailed as a beautiful garden specimen. However, enthusiasm soon waned after gardeners became familiar with its suckering habits and its offensive odour. Despite this it was used extensively as a street tree during much of the 19th century. Outside of Europe and the United States the plant has been spread to many other areas beyond its native range. In a number of these it has become a serious invasive species due to its ability to quickly colonise disturbed areas and suppress competition with allelopathic chemicals. It is considered a noxious weed in Australia, the United States, New Zealand and several countries in southern and eastern Europe. The tree also re-sprouts vigorously when cut, making its eradication extremely difficult and time consuming.
In China the tree of heaven has a long and rich history. It was mentioned in the oldest extant Chinese dictionary and listed in countless Chinese medical texts for its purported ability to cure ailments ranging from mental illness to balding. The roots, leaves and bark are still used today in traditional Chinese medicine, primarily as an astringent. The tree has been grown extensively both in China and abroad as a host plant for the ailanthus silkmoth, a moth involved in silk production. Ailanthus has become a part of western culture as well, with the tree serving as the central metaphor and subject matter of the best-selling American novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.
Website, video, and graphics by Rob Nelson
For more information on this plant or management please contact US Army Corp of Engineers