Tree of Heaven leaf

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

Rapidly-growing tree that can reach 80’ or more. Tree of Heaven has smooth stems, pale gray bark, and light brown twigs. Leaves and male flowers have a strong odor of rancid peanuts.

Overview

Regulated areas of tree of Heaven
Tree of Heaven is Restricted (Orange counties)

Other names for this plant include:

  • Common names: China sumac, stinktree, ailanthus
  • Scientific names: A. glandulosa; Rhus cacodendron

Ecological threat:

  • Aggressive invader of urban areas, fields, roadsides, fencerows, woodland edges and forest openings. It may occur as seedlings in recently planted fields.
  • Prolific seed producer; once established can form an impenetrable thicket.
  • Allelopathic; plant produces chemicals that are toxic to other organisms, both plants and insects.

Classification in Wisconsin: Restricted

Species Assessment Groups (SAG) were assembled to recommend a legal classification for each species considered for NR 40. The recommendation for Tree of Heaven was based upon this literature review developed by the department.

Identification

Leaves: Large, alternate, pinnately compound, 1-4’ long. Composed of 11-25 entire leaflets with the exception of 1 to several glandular teeth near the base.

Flowers: Small; yellow-green; 5-6 petals; borne in dense clusters near ends of upper branches in late spring; dioecious.

Fruits & seeds: Green turning pink to tan, papery, two winged samaras in clusters. Develop in late summer to early fall and may remain on the tree through winter.

Roots: Aggressive; spreading rhizomes.

Similar species: Black walnut (Juglans nigra), butternut (Juglans cinerea), and some species of sumac (Rhus spp.). The leaf margins of the look-alikes have small teeth, with the exception of winged sumac, while those of Tree of Heaven are smooth.

Distribution

Known county distribution of tree of heaven
Counties in WI where tree of Heaven has been reported (as of July 2011). Both vouchered and unvouchered reports included.

Do you have Tree of Heaven in your county but it isn't shaded on the map? Send us a report.

Control

Mechanical: Seedlings can be removed by hand. Trees may be cut at ground level with a saw, most effective when the tree has begun to flower. Re-sprouts may occur after treatment and successful control will require repeated cutting.

Chemical: Foliar spray with either glyphosate or triclopyr ester from June-September. Basal bark with triclopyr ester during the summer. Cut-stump treatment with triclopyr or glyphosate.

For more information on control techniques, visit the Tree of Heaven factsheet [exit DNR] by University of Wisconsin-Extension.

Photos

View Tree of Heaven pictures in our photo gallery!

Resources

Sources for content:

  • Czarapata, Elizabeth; Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest: an illustrated guide to their identification and control. University of Wisconsin Press. 2005. Pg. 87-88

Links for More Information

Last revised: Wednesday June 05 2013