Tree of Heaven

This tree was introduced from China and widely planted as an ornamental and shade Tree. It spreads rapidly and is tolerant of crowded, dusty sites. Growth ranges from 50 to 80 feet tall and branches are easily broken by storms. The light, soft wood can be used for fuel and rough construction.

Ailanthus altissima, commonly known as tree of heaven is a deciduous tree native to both China and Taiwan. It was first brought to the United States in 1784. The tree of heaven is a very rapidly growing tree, possibly the fastest growing tree in North America, with a normal growth of 3.3 to 6.6 ft per year for the first four years and is capable of reaching heights of 49 ft in 25 years. However, the species is also short lived and rarely lives more than 50 years.

It was once very popular, but this popularity dropped, especially in the United States, due to the disagreeable odor of its blossoms and the weediness of its habit. It is considered a noxious weed, spreading aggressively both by seeds and re-sprouting vigorously when cut, making its eradication difficult and time consuming and earning it the counter-nickname "tree from hell". It has also been nicknamed the "ghetto palm" and "stink tree" because of its propensity for growing in the inhospitable conditions of urban areas, or on abandoned and poorly maintained properties. In the east of its range it grows most extensively in disturbed areas of cities, where it was long ago present as a planted street tree. It also grows along roads and railways.

The Tree of Heaven is a medium-sized tree that reaches heights between 56 and 90 ft with a diameter at breast height of about 40 in. The bark is smooth and light grey, often becoming somewhat rougher as the tree ages. The ends of the branches become pendulous. All parts of the plant have a strong odor that is often likened to peanuts, cashews, or rotting cashews.

The leaves large, ranging in size from 0.98 to 3.0 ft. The rachis (leaf stalk) is light to reddish-green with a swollen base. Each leaflet is 2.0 to 7.1 in long and 0.98 to 2.0 in wide. The leaflets' upper sides are dark green with light green veins; the undersides are a more whitish green.

The flowers are small and appear in large panicles (branched cluster of flowers) up to 20 inches in length. The individual flowers appear from mid-April in the south of its range to July in the north and are yellowish green to reddish. Male trees produce three to four times as many flowers as the females and emit a foul-smelling odor while flowering to attract pollinating insects. The seeds borne on the female trees are 0.2 inches in diameter and each is encapsulated in a samara (winged fruit) that is 1 inch and 0.39 inch broad, first appearing July though August. The samara is large and twisted at the tips, making it spin as it falls, assisting wind dispersal, and aiding buoyancy for long-distance dispersal by water. The females can produce huge amounts of seeds, normally around 14,000 seeds per pound of tree.

In addition to its use as an ornamental plant, the tree of heaven is also used for its wood, medicinal properties, and extensively both in China and abroad as a host plant to feed silkworms of the moth Samia cynthia, which produces silk that is stronger and cheaper than mulberry silk, although with inferior gloss and texture. It is also unable to take dye. This moth has also been introduced in the United States.

The pale yellow, close-grained and satiny wood has been used in cabinet work. It is flexible and well suited to the manufacture of kitchen steamers, which are important in Chinese cuisine for cooking mantou, pastries and rice. It is also considered a good source of firewood across much of its range as it moderately hard and heavy, yet readily available.
Tree of Heaven

Tree of Heaven Bloom

Tree of Heaven Bark

Tree of Heaven
The tree of heaven has a long and rich history in ancient Chinese medicine for its purported ability to cure ailments ranging from mental illness to baldness. The roots, leaves and bark are still used today and are available in most shops dealing in Chinese traditional medicine, primarily as an astringent. It has also been used successfully in treating cardiac palpitation, asthma and epilepsy and is sometimes used as an herbal remedy for various ailments including cancer. It has potent anti-anaphylactic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Tree of HeavenTree of Heaven


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