User ID
Home  About  Contact
Scientific Name:

Common Name:

Ailanthus altissima (P. Mill.) Swingle
Tree of heaven
Family: Simaroubaceae

USDA Plant Code: AIAL

Habitat: Terrestrial; fields, rights-of-way, open forest

Growth Habit: Perennial Tree

Native Environment: China


Tree of Heaven in Typical Habitat
Problems Caused
Tree of Heaven is a rapidly growing tree that quickly can form dense stands. This species is tolerant of shading and saturated soils, so it does well in riparian situations and along forest edges. It spreads both by root sprouts and by abundant wind- and water-dispersed seeds. Tree of Heaven is interesting in that it was introduced to the US into Pennsylvania during the 1700s from Europe, despite originating in eastern China. It was introduced separately into California from China during the 1800s. It is planted frequently as an ornamental and is popular in suburban areas because it appears to be quite resistant to browsing by deer.

Tree of Heaven is listed as a noxious weed in CT, MA, NH, and VT. In our region, Tree of Heaven is considered a severe invasion threat by the TN Exotic Pest Plant Council. It is not listed as a federal noxious weed.


Vegetative Growth
Vegetatively, Tree of Heaven may be confused with hickories (Carya spp.) and sumacs (Rhus spp.) because of their compound leaf shapes, but it is distinguished by having glands on its lobed leaflet bases and subopposite to alternate leaflet arrangement. It also may exude a strong odor from flowers and other parts, similar to that of peanuts or cashews.

This species can form deciduous trees to 25m (80ft) in height and 1.8m (6ft) in diameter. Twigs are stout, chestnut brown to reddish tan, and glabrous to tomentose with light colored lenticels and heart-shaped leaf scars. Leaf buds are finely hairy and partially hidden by the leaf petiole.

Leaves are arranged alternately on the stem, are odd- or even-pinnately compound, with 10 to more than 40 leaflets on 30 to 90cm (1-3ft) rachises with swollen bases that may cover the next year’s bud. Leaflets (5 to 18cm [2-7in] long; 2.5 to 5cm [1-2in] wide) are lanceolate and asymmetric and may be subopposite to alternately arranged. Leaflet margins are not serrated, and they usually are dark green above and whitish green beneath with roundish glands on lobes at their bases.

Wing-shaped Fruit with Twisted Tips
Annemarie Smith, ODNR Division of Forestry,
Tree of Heaven matures in only 2 to 3 years. During April to June, it produces large terminal panicles of small, yellowish-green, unisexual flowers (up to 50cm [20in] long), with five petals and five sepals. Persistent clusters of single-seeded wing-shaped fruit with twisted tips are visible from July to February. Mature fruit forms dense, showy pink clusters that persist through the winter; each cluster may contain hundreds of seeds.

Seeds are easily dispersed by wind or water, and a high percentage usually is viable.

Spread By
Tree of Heaven was widely sold as an ornamental and small shade tree for landscaping.


Tree of Heaven tolerates a wide variety of soil conditions, including dry, rocky soils and urban pavement. It is common in urban areas and disturbed sites, but has shown a limited ability to establish in mature forest. However, it has been known to exploit forest openings. Patches along fencerows, hedges, or forest edge can invade adjacent grasslands, fallow fields, or other openings rapidly, and this species has become a pest of agricultural areas in parts of its range.


United States
This tree can be found in 42 states, from Maine to Florida, then into California and even Hawaii.

Tree of Heaven is found in several counties in each of the five IPAMS states, but appears to be patchily distributed in each state. This may reflect lack of reporting and insufficient collection by herbaria, as county-level reports from each state are more-or-less evenly spread across the states (with the exception of Mississippi, which likely is simply undersurveyed for this species).

IPAMS Surveys:

Control Methods

No biological controls are currently recommended for Tree of Heaven.

Chemical Control Options for Tree of Heaven
Herbicide Method Rate
glyphosate Foliar spray, Broadcast 2% solution
Cut stump 50% solution
Frill 50% solution
triclopyr Foliar spray, Broadcast 20% solution
Basal bark 25% solution
Cut stump 50% solution
Frill 50% solution
Injection 1.5 milliliters of undiluted concentrate at 3 to 4 inch intervals around the trunk
imazapyr Foliar spray, Broadcast 1% solution
Basal bark 10% solution
Injection 1 milliliter of solution at 3 to 4 inch intervals around the trunk
fosamine ammonium Foliar spray, Broadcast 30% solution
picloram Injection 2 milliliters per injection site
triclopyr + picloram Basal bark 20% + 5% solution
imazapyr + picloram Basal bark 9% + 5% solution
Elimination of this species, as is the case with many serious invaders, is a lengthy process because of its high seed production and germination rate, and its vigorous vegetative reproduction by root sprouts. Targeting mature female plants for control helps reduce spread by seed.

Injection is the best application method for large trees, with triclopyr, picloram, or imazapyr at rates and injection spacing according to label directions. Midsummer timing is most effective, followed in effectiveness by late winter injection.

Foliar applications of triclopyr as a 20% solution, imazapyr as 1% solution, or fosamine ammonium as a 30% solution can be made to seedlings and saplings from July to October. Applications should be made with a basal oil carrier and penetrant.

Mature plants can be treated with foliar applications of glyphosate using a 2% solution and a 0.5% non-ionic surfactant. Glyphosate is a non-selective systemic herbicide that may kill non-target plants. Triclopyr can be sprayed as a 2% solution with a non-ionic surfactant. Triclopyr is a selective systemic herbicide for broad leaf weed control and should be use in areas where desirable grasses are growing. Imazapyr can also sprayed as 1% solution with a non-ionic surfactant, though like glyphosate, imazapyr is a non-selective systemic herbicide and may cause damage to non-target vegetation. Spray drift and off target injury can be minimized by using a low pressure spray with a large droplet size.

The cut stump method is viable when treating large individual trees or in areas that have desirable vegetation. Stumps should be treated immediately after the tree is cut. Both blyphosate and triclopyr can be applied to cut stumps as a 50% solution.

Basal bark applications can be made throughout the year except when the ground is frozen to a height of 15 to 20 inches from the ground. Triclopyr as a mixture of 25% herbicide and 75% horticultural oil is effective. Imazapyr can also be used as a 10% solution. Increased control can be achieved by combining both triclopyr and imazapyr with a 5% solution of picloram. All basal bark applications should contain an oil carrier and applied to completely wet the bark.

Frill applications can be made by cutting the bark into the cambium layer of the tree in 3 inch intervals around the trunk. Cuts should be made at a height of 6 to 18 inches above the ground. Glyphosate or triclopyr should then be applied immediately to the cuts as a 50% solution.

Because this species spreads effectively by root sprouting, cutting is considered an initial control tactic whose success will require either an herbicidal control or repeated cutting of resprouts. Cutting has the greatest effect when trees have begun to flower, by preventing seed production. Cutting my be effected by sawing the tree off at ground level or by girdling within 6in (15cm) of the ground.

No physical controls are currently recommended for Tree of Heaven.


Miller, J. H. 2003. Nonnative invasive plants of southern forests: a field guide for identification and control. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS–62. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 93 p. Online resource at accessed [22 June 2007].

Miller, J. H., E. B. Chambliss, C. T. Bargeron. 2004. Invasive Plants of the Thirteen Southern States. Invasive and Exotic Species of North America. Online resource at accessed [22 June 2007].

Remaley, T. and C. Bargeron. 2003. Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council Invasive Plant Manual. Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council. Online resource at accessed [22 June 2007].

Swearingen, J., K. Reshetiloff, B. Slattery, and S. Zwicker. 2002. Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas. National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 82 pp. Online resource at accessed [22 June 2007].

USDA, NRCS. 2007. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA. Online resource at accessed [22 June 2007].

More Information

Alien Plant Database

Southeast Exotic Plant Pest Council

Southern Weed Science Society


Contributing Authors

Dr. John D. Madsen, Geosystems Research Institute, Mississippi State University
Ryan M. Wersal, Geosystems Research Institute, Mississippi State University

Contact Info

Dr. Gary N. Ervin
Mississippi State University
Department of Biological Sciences
Box 9627
Mississippi State, MS 39762-9627
Ph. (662)325-1203

Geosystems Research Institute
Contact: John D. Madsen, Ph.D.  •  WebMaster