COMMON NAME

Tree-of-heaven
Copal Tree


FULL SCIENTIFIC NAME

Ailanthus altissima (Miller) Swingle


FAMILY NAME COMMON

Quassia family


FAMILY SCIENTIFIC NAME

Ailanthus altissima


IMAGES


Staminate inflorescence

Staminate inflorescence with leaves

Pistillate flowers with young fruit

Seedlings

Habit

Fruits (Samaras)

Incursion

Plants in the forest

Leaflets close-up

NOMENCLATURE/SYNONYMS

Synonyms: Ailanthus glandulosa Desf.


DESCRIPTION

Botanical Glossary

Ailanthus altissima is a rapidly growing dioecious tree that can reach over 18.3 m (60 ft.) in height. The leaves are 0.3-0.9 m (1-3 ft.) long . Each leaf is comprised of 11-25 ovate-lanceolate leaflets which are each 7.6-12.7 cm (3-5 in.) long. They are truncate at the base and acute or acuminate at the apex. There are usually one or more coarse teeth at the base of the leaflet, and each of these teeth has a large gland beneath it. The bark of this tree is extremely smooth and pale gray in color. The inflorescence is pyramidal in shape and is 10.0-20.3 cm (4-8 in.) long with greenish to greenish-yellow flowers [5 mm (0.2 in.)] that appear in late spring. The staminate flowers and broken twigs have an unpleasant scent. The fruits are twisted samaras that appear from September to October on the female trees. They are yellow-green to orange-red and changing to brown in the winter, and are 5 cm (2 in.) long. Page References Bailey 611, Fernald 953, Gleason & Cronquist 355, Holmgren 335, Magee & Ahles 697. See reference section below for full citations.


SIMILAR SPECIES

Rhus typhina L. Picture of R. typhina
R. glabra L. Picture of R. glabra
R. copallina L. (Sumacs) Picture of R. copallina
Juglans nigra L. (Black walnut) Picture of J. nigra
J. cinerea L. (Butternut) Picture of J. cinerea Rhus species have pinnate leaves that are similar to Ailanthus altissima leaves. However, when fruiting, Rhus spp. have clusters of reddish, often hairy berries as opposed to the samaras of Ailanthus altissima. The pinnate leaves of Juglans species are also similar to the leaves of Ailanthus altissima. However, Juglans species can also be distinguished from Ailanthus altissima by their fruits. The fruits of Juglans species are hard-coated green nuts, which are easily distinguishable from the samaras of Ailanthus altissima .


REPRODUCTIVE/DISPERSAL MECHANISMS

The primary method of dispersal for Ailanthus altissima is by wind. However, the fruits are also light enough to float and could be moved by water.


DISTRIBUTION

Ailanthus altissima is native to central China. In the United States, it is found in all states except Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, Wyoming, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. This tree has been reported in all northeastern states as well as Canada.


HISTORY OF INTRODUCTION IN NEW ENGLAND

Ailanthus altissima was brought to England from China in 1751. It was then introduced into the United States in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1784 by a gardener named William Hamilton. By 1840 it was being sold by nurseries for its foliage. The first Connecticut record was in 1856. It has been used extensively for plantings in cities because of its rapid growth and resistance to air pollution. It is from these city plantings that this plant has escaped and extended its range not only into New England, but into the majority of the country.


HABITATS IN NEW ENGLAND

Abandoned Field,Agricultural Field,Coastal Beach or Dune,Early Successional Forest,Edge,Roadside,Vacant Lot,Yard or Garden

Ailanthus altissima can be found in a variety of habitats, such as disturbed urban areas, alleys, along sidewalks, along streets, fields, fencerows, woodland edges, forest gaps, and agricultural fields.


THREATS

Because of its rapid growth Ailanthus altissima can easily displace some native vegetation. It also produces toxins that can prevent the establishment of other plant species. The root system of the plant can cause damage to sewers and foundations. When cut down this tree can produce suckers and stump sprouts. A single tree can produce 325,000 wind dispersed seeds a year. The sap of this species may cause myocarditis (inflamation of the heart tissue) if it is internalized (Bisognano et al. 2005).


MANAGEMENT LINKS

The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group Invasive Plant Management Guide
Comprehensive management information.

Plant Conservation Alliance fact sheet
Includes management information.


DOCUMENTATION NEEDS

Documentation required: Photograph of habit, inflorescence.
Best time for documentation: Summer, fall.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Taxanomic information.

PLANTS database
Distribution information and additional links.

Plant Conservation Alliance
Fact sheet

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
Fact sheet

Virginia Tech Dendrology
Basic description and pictures

National Invasive Species Information Center
General information and many more links

USDA Forest Service
History and general information


REFERENCES

Bailey, L.H.  1949.  Manual of Cultivated Plants.  Macmillan, New York.

Bisognano, J.D., K.S. McGrody, and A.M. Spence.  2005.  Myocarditis from the chinese sumac tree.  Annals of Internal Medicine 143 (2): 159-160.
Link to online article

Dirr, M.A. 1983. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Stipes Publishing Company, Champaign, Illinois. 

Fernald, M.L.  1950.  Gray's Manual of Botany 8th edition.  American Book Company, New York.

Fire Conference 2000.  Proceedings of the Invasive Species Workshop: The Role of Fire in the Control and Spread of Invasive Species. The First National Congress on Fire Ecology, Prevention, and Management.  Tall Timbers Research Station, Miscellaneous Publication No. 11.


Gleason, H.A. and A.C. Cronquist.  1991.  Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 2nd ed.  New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Heisey, R.M. 1990. Evidence for Allelopathy by Tree of Heaven Ailanthus altissima. Journal of Chemical Ecology 16 (6): 2039-2056.

Holmgren N.H. 1998. Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual.  New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Hu, S.Y. 1979. Ailanthus. Arnoldia 39(2): 29-50.

Knapp, L.B. and C.D. Canham  2000. Invasion of old-growth forests in New York by Ailanthus altissima: sapling growth and recruitment in canopy gaps. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 127 (4): 307-315.

Kowarik, I. 1995. Clonal growth in Ailanthus altissima on a natural site in West Virginia. Journal of Vegetation Science 6(6): 853-856.

Lawrence, J.G., A. Colwell and O.J. Sexton 1991. The ecological impact of Allelopathy Ailanthus altissima Simaroubaceae. American Journal of Botany 78(7): 948-958.

Magee, D.W and H.E. Ahles. 1999.  Flora of the Northeast. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst.

Marshall, P.E. and G.R. Furnier 1981. Growth responses of Ailanthus altissima seedlings to SO2. Environ. Poll. Ser A: 149-153.

Newton, E.  1986. Arboreal Riffraff or Ultimate Tree?  Audobon, July 1986. pp. 12-19. 

Rabe, E. P. and N. Bassuk 1984. Adaptation of Ailanthus altissima to the urban environment through analysis of habitat usage and growth repsonse to soil compaction. Hortscience (Programs and Abstracts) 19(3): 572.

Sargent, C.S. 1888. The ailanthus. Garden and Forest 1888: 1385-1386.

USDA, NRCS.  2001.  The PLANTS Database, Version 3.1. (http://plants.usda.gov).  National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.