50923‘A Tree Grows In Brooklyn’ documents the resiliency and invasiveness of the common but typically undesirable tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima. Once a single female tree get established, the extremely prolific seeds get everywhere, including cracks in concrete. The resulting seedlings conquer wherever they are not dug out. If cut down, they just resprout from the roots.

Male trees smell horrible while blooming for about a month in spring or summer. They are pollinated by flies, so naturally smell like what flies like. The tiny yellowish or tan flowers hang on panicles that can be a foot and a half long. Female blooms are not as big, prolific or objectionably fragrant. However, stems, leaves and all other parts of both genders smell rotten when handled.

Tree of Heaven, which has earned the alternative names of ‘tree of Hell’, ‘stink tree’, ‘ghetto elm’ and ‘ghetto palm’, is no longer a tree that gets planted by choice. It is typically a tree that plants itself, and on rare occasion, happens to grow into a good situation. They should not be allowed to overwhelm more desirable trees, or get too close to concrete or other damageable features.

Young trees grow very fast to about forty feet tall. Older and slower trees do not get much taller, although sheltered trees can get twice as tall, with elegant gray bark. They do not live much more than fifty years. The big pinnately compound leaves are surprisingly pretty. On vigorous shoots, individual leaves can get as long as two and a half feet, with leaflets as long as six inches.

9 thoughts on “Tree of Heaven

  1. Tree of Heaven is a noxious weed here and very hard to eradicate. I read ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ some time ago and enjoyed it. I bought the book in NYC, in fact. It took me a long time to find out what the tree was and I was surprised when I did.

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  2. When I first saw them, I actually thought they were rather pretty. Glad I never liked it enough to plant one – LOL! I heard that one way to stop this beast in its tracks, is to girdle it. Had no idea it is so stinky! Learn something new every day… 🙂

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    1. Well, they are sort of pretty. One of my colleagues actually planted some at the farm because it was a cultivar with pretty pink new foliage. I really don’t care! It is still the same species! They accidentally got cut down. When they tried to regenerate, the stumps accidentally got sprayed with herbicide.
      Girdling does not kill them. It just angers them. They regenerate from the ground unless killed with herbicide, or the shoots are kept plucked off as quickly as they appear.

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  3. We have some of these in our woodlands and in the pecan orchard property. They are HELL to get rid of. I have tried to eradicate these for years, but they continue to pop up again and again. It’s just too invasive to keep up with. I’m afraid they will win in the end. I can’t keep combing the woods to find each one. The tend to thrive in the woodland bottom soil here.

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    1. It angers me that some people actually plant them! That is like planting pampas grass! Fortunately, those that get planted seem to be confined to urban areas that are already infested with them. With all the crazy and stupid laws out there that accomplish nothing, there should be more regarding invasive exotic specie.

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    1. No, it does not. I try to present unbiased information. What I said really is accurate, in an unbiased way. I can tell you from experience that those trees really are nasty, and when they bloom, they smell like a frat house on Saturday morning.


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