Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Ailanthus altissima, Tree of Heaven

Scientific Name: Ailanthus altissima
Common Name: Tree of Heaven

Also Called: Tree-of-Heaven

Family: Simaroubaceae, the Quassia Family

Synonyms: (Ailanthus glandulosa, Toxicodendron altissimum)

Status: Introduced from China

Duration: Perennial

Size: Up to 20 feet (6 m) tall or more (60 feet) (18 m).

Growth Form: Tree, rapid growth, rhizomes sometimes producing clonal thickets, new growth glandular-puberulent, smooth bark, gray with thin, light vertical streaks; twigs stout yellowish to reddish brown and covered with velvety hairs; odor unpleasant (malodorous) when twigs and leaves crushed.

Leaves: Green, odd or even pinnately-compound, leaves are arranged alternately along the stem, the leaf rachis is light to reddish green with swollen base; paired leaflets red to purplish when emerging and becoming dark green, variable in size, ovate-lanceolate; margins entire although bearing one to four teeth near the leaf base often with a large gland on the underside of each tooth.

Flower Color: Yellowish-green; dioecious, male flowers (staminate) malodorous, large terminal panicles, calyx less than 1 mm long; small petals (2-3 mm) woolly on and near the proximal margins; fruits winged samara for wind dispersal, seed portion near the center; samara yellowish green to reddish to orangish red.

Flowering Season: April or June to June or July

Elevation: 1,100 to 5,500 feet (350-1,700 m), below 5,400 feet (1,650 m) in California.

Habitat Preferences: Highly invasive, disturbed areas, adaptable to very poor soils and pollution, often found in disturbed natural areas and industrial areas, common near old habitations, along irrigation ditches, floodplains, roadsides, oak woodlands, grasslands and along riparian areas.

Recorded Range: Tree of Heaven is an introduced species native to China and it now occurs throughout the world. It is found in most of North America except western Canada and parts of the northern United States. It is also found in central Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Ailanthus altissima.

U.S. Weed Information: In North America Ailanthus altissima can be weedy or invasive according to the following authoritative sources: State noxious weed lists for 46 states.
California Invasive Plant Inventory. Cal-IPC Publication 2006-02 (1 February 2007);
Invasive exotic pest plants in Tennessee (19 October 1999).;
Wisconsin manual of control recommendations for ecologically invasive plants.

Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: In North America Ailanthus altissima is listed as a Noxious Weed by the federal government and/or a State; Plants included here are invasive or noxious.
Connecticut, Tree of Heaven; Invasive, Banned;
Massachusetts, Tree of Heaven, Prohibited;
New Hampshire, Tree of Heaven; Prohibited, Invasive Species;
Vermont, Tree-of-Heaven, Class B Noxious Weed.

Wetland Indicator: In North America Ailanthus altissima has the following wetland designations:
Arid West, Facultative Upland, usually occur in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands;
Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain, Facultative Upland, usually occur in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands;
Eastern Mountains and Piedmont, Facultative Upland, usually occur in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands;
Great Plains, Facultative Upland, usually occur in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands;
Midwest, Facultative Upland, usually occur in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands;
Northcentral & Northeast, Obligate Upland, almost never occur in wetlands;
Western Mountains, Valleys, and Coast, Facultative Upland, usually occur in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands.

Threatened/Endangered Information: No information available.

Genus Information: In North America there are x species and x accepted taxa overall for genus. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 7 accepted species names and a further 24 scientific names of infraspecific rank for the genus.

In the United States there is 1 species of Ailanthus. All data approximate and subject to revision.

Comments: In Arizona earliest observation records of the Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima were from Pecks Lake, Yavapai County. Tree of Heaven was brought to the United States in the 1780's as a shade tree and quickly escaped into roadsides and wasteland. The trees are easily widespread by invasive rhizome roots and by wind dispersal of the schizocarps (the samara fruit).

Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
There are few reports of either wildlife or domestic animal use of Tree of Heaven. White-tailed deer and domestic goats browse the foliage. Tree of Heaven is unpalatable to ungulates. The bark and leaves contain saponins, quassinoids, and other bitter compounds that discourage consumption. (FEIS).

A few birds, including pine grosbeak and crossbills, eat the seeds. A New Jersey study found granivorous rodents ignored Tree of Heaven seeds in an old field. (FEIS).

Special Value to Native Bees, Butterflies and Insects
Invertebrates use Tree of Heaven; the few studies available as of 2010 suggested Tree of Heaven is important in the diet of some invertebrate species. (FEIS).

For a comprehensive and thoroughly documented review of Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima see the USDA USFS Fire Effects Information System, or FEIS.

The genus Ailanthus is from a Moluccan name "ailanto" "sky tree". The genus Ailanthus was published in 1788 by René Louiche Desfontaines.
The species epithet "altissima" means "very tall" or "tallest".

Tree of Heaven is used in China as an insect repellent, wood can be used for cabinetry, and the dried bark is a listed Chinese medicine. Some treatments listed as antimalarial agent, for cardiac palpitation, asthma, and epilepsy. Extract has a potential modern use as an organic herbicide.

Date Profile Completed: 01/24/2020
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 01/23/2020)
The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 01/23/2020).
Robert E. Preston & Elizabeth McClintock 2012, Ailanthus altissima, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, eflora_display.php?tid=12354, accessed on January 22, 2020.
Brasher, Jeffrey W. 1999. Simaroubaceae. Vascular Plants of Arizona: Ariz. - Nev. Acad. Sci. 32(1).
The Morton Arboretum: VPlants, The Field Museum of Natural History. Note: Site is no longer operational. from SEINet (accessed 01/23/2020).
S. Buckley 2010, F. S. Coburn 2015, A. Hazelton 2015, from SEINet (accessed 01/23/2020).
Martin and Hutchins 1980, Carter 2012, Heil et al 2013, Heisy 1997. from SEINet (accessed 01/23/2020).
SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information. (accessed 01/23/2020).
ETYMOLOGY: Michael L. Charters; California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations; A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology; (accessed 01/23/2020)
'René Louiche Desfontaines', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 10 January 2020, 14:40 UTC, [accessed 23 January