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Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

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Tree of Heaven

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.

Range - Expand

LegendColor
Introduced
Introduced or Not Present

This tentative map is based on our own research. It may have limited data on Canada and/or Mexico, and there is some subjectivity in our assignment of plants as introduced vs. expanded. Read more in this blog post.

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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.

Ailanthus | The Wood Database (About This Site)

Tree-of-Heaven | Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) (About This Site)

Ailanthus altissima (Tree-of-Heaven) | Illinois Wildflowers (About This Site)

Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven) | USDA PLANTS Database (About This Site)

Ailanthus altissima | Go Botany (About This Site)

Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven) | Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder (About This Site)

Tree-of-Heaven | Virginia Tech Dendrology Factsheets (About This Site)

Ailanthus | Silvics of North America (About This Site)

Ailanthus altissima (tree-of-heaven) | CABI Invasive Species Compendium (About This Site)

Ailanthus altissima | Biota of North America Project (BONAP) (About This Site)

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Photo © Ira Gershenhorn, Public Domain.
Photo © Jesse Rorabaugh, CC BY 4.0.