Tree of Heaven

Tree of Heaven

Common name Tree of Heaven
Botanical name Ailanthus altissima
Family Simaroubaceae
Natural range Central China
Mature height 10m
Form Upright bushy crown
Likes Growing anywhere
Dislikes Shade
Where to plant Don’t do it!
Known for Being an invasive weed

A Name That Contradicts Nature

Peculiar, isn’t it, how a name can be far removed from reality? The ‘Tree of Heaven’ stands as a glaring example. Far from being celestial, this tree is infamous for its invasive nature. This hardy interloper produces a deluge of seeds, spawns dense thickets that eclipse native species, and exudes a toxic chemical into the soil, detrimental to its green neighbours.

The origins of its misnomer, the Tree of Heaven, likely stem from its astonishing growth speed, reaching skyward with a rapidity that earned it fame as a unique, fast-growing, decorative shade tree that can thrive in varied soil types and site conditions.

From Ornamental Beauty to Unwanted Invader

The tree’s tale takes a turn when it ventured beyond its native realm in Central China to touch the shores of Western Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Here, it bared its true colours, morphing into a rampant intruder. This unsought guest, Ailanthus altissima, often takes root in unexpected urban nooks and crannies—cracks in stone or cement patios, sidewalks, building foundations, bridge abutments, or within stone walls. Essentially, any spot with a handful of soil to support its germination and seedling growth phase is fair game.

The Tree of Rapid Growth and Resilience

The Tree of Heaven does hold some merit in its homeland, China, where it is valued in traditional medicine. Furthermore, it serves as a habitat for a species of silk moth, offering an alternative to the conventional Mulberry-dwelling moths. With its large compound leaves, it sports a lush tropical look that can be deceivingly attractive. Its growth pace is equally staggering—it can shoot up by 1-2 meters annually, ultimately towering up to 20 meters with a loose, open canopy.

A Prolific Seed-Bearer: A Boon or Bane?

The tree’s proliferation in Australia can be attributed to its extraordinary fertility. One research unearthed startling numbers—a 100-year-old Tree of Heaven can churn out approximately 52 million seeds throughout its lifetime! Not just quantity, it boasts a high seed viability rate too—around 66% for a 104-year-old tree and nearly 80% for younger trees.

Interesting Facts:
  1. The Tree of Heaven, despite its deceptive name, is an invasive weed known for its destructive characteristics.
  2. This tree can grow rapidly, achieving an annual growth rate of 1-2 meters and reaching up to 20 meters in height.
  3. Its incredible fertility allows it to produce about 52 million seeds in a 100-year lifespan, with a high seed viability rate.
Further Reading:
  1. Unravelling the Paradox of Invasive Species
  2. Decoding Traditional Chinese Medicine: The Role of Ailanthus altissima
  3. Understanding the Impact of Invasive Species on Native Flora
  4. The Transformation from Ornamental Plant to Invasive Weed: The Tale of the Tree of Heaven
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