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Tree of Heaven

Tree of Heaven can grow practically anywhere, and can be found in parking lots, railroads, and more. Photo Credit: Chuck Bargeron, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

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Common Name: Tree of Heaven
Scientific Name: Ailanthus altissima
Origin: Asia


Tree of Heaven (TOH) is a fast growing hardwood tree that reaches 80 feet in height, although more commonly found around 40 feet. TOH has very large compound leaves, often with as many as 30-40 leaflets on a leaf reaching 1-3 feet in length. These trees form dense thickets by root suckering, giving the appearance of several small trees clustering in a small area. Bark is smooth, light-gray, and resembles the texture of a cantaloupe.

To distinguish from the native sumac trees, look for leaflets with smooth margins and a small gland at the leaflet base, and for new growth to be burgundy-red in color.


TOH grows anywhere in recently disturbed sites in full sun. Look for these trees to grow on the edges of roads, parking lots, and throughout urban and rural sites. One typically does not find these trees in deep forests.


TOH poses a threat by out competing native plant species for space and by producing chemicals in their roots that kill nearby plants. It is also the host tree of the invasive Spotted Lanternfly, giving this invasive insect a potential food source that will help its ongoing invasion of the Finger Lakes.


Managing TOH is difficult, as cutting down the tree will only result in the root system sending up new shoots elsewhere. Herbicides should be used in mid to late summer, and followed up the next year, with treatments likely taking years before the tree is finally killed.