A tree-of-heaven with long, flexible branches bending under their own weight hangs out above a canal it is growing out of, with a steel beam entering the frame from bottom left across horizontally.
A young tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima); taken outside of Lowell's Mogan Cultural Center
This deciduous tree (meaning it sheds its leaves in fall) can grow up to 70 ft tall! Most you will find in Lowell are much smaller, like the one in the photo to the left. The tree-of-heaven is an incredibly tolerant tree, meaning that under significant pressure (lack of soil, lack of water, excessive heat or cold, lack of sun, chemical buildup, etc.) it is still able to grow - perhaps not to a full seventy feet, but enough to survive at least.

The tree can grow in sun or shade, in dry, rocky, or sandy soil and between the cracks in pavement, concrete and asphalt. This allows the tree-of-heaven to grow where few other plants can, especially in urban environments like Lowell. However, it can also easily begin growing in places which are inconvenient to city-dwellers (e.g. the middle of a sidewalk, or between buildings).

In the 1800s the tree-of-heaven was used in cities and towns across the nation because of its beautiful leaves and astonishing adaptability, imported from central China. Nowadays, the species is considered invasive because it is non-native and spreads too quickly.

Last updated: September 26, 2020

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