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Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

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Summary

A fast-growing tree, native to east Asia, and widely introduced across North America. Common in anthropogenic habitats in much of its introduced range, less common in natural areas.

USDA Plants Profile for Ailanthus altissima

Illinois Wildflowers Page for Ailanthus altissima

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Habitat

Prefers full sun and moist conditions, but tolerates some shade and drought. Tolerates air pollution, especially from sulfur dioxide, as well as contaminated soils. Intolerant of heavy competition for light from other plants, but often able to shut out other plants through allelopathy.

Most common in urban areas, where it is found in vacant lots, waste ground, and on poorly maintained properties, often growing in cracks up against buildings. Also grows in rural areas along highways and railroad tracks, and in woodland edges. Less common in intact natural areas.

Faunal Associations

In North America, this species is eaten by the Ailanthus webworm moth, a species native to central America and southern Florida that jumped host to eat this plant.

Also supports the spotted lanternfly in one of its life stages, which has lead to an increased push to remove this species to curb the spread of that invasive insect.

Uses

Initially planted as a landscaping plant, where it was valued for its rapid growth and showy blossoms and seedheads, but now mostly considered a weed and invasive plant.

Used to produce a nonstandard type of silk, called Eri silk, stronger and cheaper than the silk produced from mulberry leaves.

The wood has many desirable qualities, although it requires special techniques to dry it without cracking.

The plant is also used in Chinese traditional medicine.

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