Tree of Heaven

A.K.A: China-Sumac; Varnishtree

What type of organism is it?

The scientific name for the "Tree of Heaven" is: Ailanthus altissima

It is a plant, a tree really.

It is a tough, fast growing invasive species the can withstand pollution, drought, and poor soil. It can set root in pavement cracks and the most inhospitable areas, it also secrets toxic compounds that kill competing plant life, beating the native plan growth.

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Where did this invasive species come from??

It originated from China, from there it was introduced into England, as well as France.

After its introduction to our friends across the waters, it was mistakenly planted in Philadelphia as a shade tree.

Chinese miners also carried seeds of it over into California during the Gold Rush.

Thus beginning its take over of surrounding southeastern states, like North Carolina.

How did it spread??

It was first used as an ornamental in Philadelphia and then New York.

After that it was brought in on the other side of the country by Chinese railroad workers probably because of the medicinal and cultural importance of the plant to their homeland.

The wind can carry the seeds extremely easy, and each plant lets out about 325,000 a year. They can also take root from just sprout, and they can sprout almost anywhere.


It crowds out the native species, and kills some with its toxic secretions.

It damages pavement breaking it apart by sprouting in its cracks.

It also damages sewers and building foundations in urban areas.

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How to manage this invasive species:

There are lots of things we can all do to help the containment of these plants.

Do not use it as a yard ornament, you can use instead plants like: Staghorn Sumac, Smooth Sumac, Fringe-tree, and Black Walnut, which are more native to the eastern United States. The native plants will be better for the ecosystem around them.

If you find that the seedlings are growing in unwanted areas, DO NOT BURN THEM, they grow very well, even post-burning.

You are only killing the tops, the roots will branch out and most like out crowd the regrowth of any native species.

To be most efficient, you should pull the trees before the tap root begins to develop, take care to remove the entire plant, fragments will surely regrow.

If you miss this opportunity, there's still something you could do.

The most effective way to control it, is through chemical agents like herbicides.

  • Sprayed onto the leaves and twigs. This is referred to as foliar spraying.
  • Sprayed onto the bark around the base of small trees. This is referred to as basal bark spraying.
  • Sprayed or brushed on a freshly cut stump.
  • Sprayed or brushed in spaced or connected wounds through the bark around the trunk.