Tree of Heaven

Ailanthus altissima (P. Mill) Swingle
Simaroubaceae Family

Origin: Northeastern and Central China and Taiwan

Also called shumac, stinking sumac, Chinese sumac, and ailanthus, it was introduced by a Pennsylvania gardener in 1748 and was made available commercially by 1840. It gained some notoriety as the species featured in the book “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” by Betty Smith.

Paul Wray, IA State Univ.

Bill Johnson

Distribution and Habitat
Tree of heaven is reported to be invasive in natural areas in 30 states across continental U.S. and Hawaii. It is highly adaptable to disturbance and a huge range of soil types and conditions, grows best in full sun and is tolerant of drought.

Ecological Threat
A common tree in urban areas where it causes damage to sewers and structures, ailanthus poses a greater threat to agriculture and natural ecosystems. It is a vigorous growing tree and prolific seeder that establishes dense stands that push out natives. Tree of heaven contains chemicals, including ailanthone, that have been found to have strong allelopathic (herbicidal) affects on the growth of other plants which help it establish and spread.

Description and Biology

Prevention and Control
Do not plant tree of heaven or spread its seeds when moving soil from infested areas. Before attempting control, ensure that you are not mistaking a native species like staghorn sumac, ash or walnut for tree of heaven. Elimination of tree of heaven requires diligence. Targeting large female trees for control will help reduce spread by seed. Because vegetative spread by male and female trees will continue to be a threat, elimination of all trees must be the long term goal. Systemic herbicides with active ingredients like glyphosate and triclopyr are most effective and can be applied to bark, cut stems or foliage (see Control Options).


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Last updated:11-Nov-2010