NC State University
House with native plants and animalsGoing Native: Urban Landscaping for Wildlife with Native Plants
Home > How to Go Native > Map Existing Site and Vegetation > Invasive, Exotic Plants of the Southeast > Tree-of-Heaven

Invasive, Exotic Plants of the Southeast



Common Name:  Tree-of-Heaven

Scientific Name:  Ailanthus altissima

Identification: Tree-of-Heaven is a deciduous tree that may reach 80 feet in height and 6 feet in diameter.  The tree has odd or even pinnately compound leaves that have 10 to 41 leaflets on 1 to 3 foot stalks.  When crushed, the leaves have a strong odor resembling peanut butter.  The bark is usually light gray and rough.  Yellowish-green flowers appear on 20 inch long terminal clusters in April to June.  Wing-shaped fruit appears from July to February.

Ecology:  Tree-of-Heaven is a rapid growing tree that colonizes by root sprouts and seeds that are spread by wind and water.  Sprouts can grow 10 to 14 feet the first year and seedlings can grow 3 to 6 feet in the first year.  Viable seeds are present on 2 to 3 year old trees.  Tree-of Heaven is shade and flood intolerant.  Few wildlife species use Tree-of Heaven.  Tree-of-Heaven was introduced as an ornamental but rarely is planted now.

Plant Control: Cut down large trees with a chainsaw and treat outer two inches of cut surface of stump with undiluted glyphosate concentrate (53.8% is preferable). If seed clusters are present on cut limbs, collect and bag these and dispose of in heavy garbage bag so they do not sprout.  Large saplings can be treated in a similar fashion, taking care to treat the entire cut surface.  If numerous small saplings are present and the foliage is within your reach, apply a 2% glyphosate and surfactant solution as a foliar treatment in late summer.  If wind-borne seeds are coming from an off-site source, annual monitoring may be needed to control new seedlings. Hand pulling is very effective on very young Ailanthus seedlings. Plants should be pulled as soon as they are large enough to grasp. Seedlings are best pulled after a rain when soil is loose. The entire root must be removed since broken fragments may re-sprout. 

Alternative Native Species: Hickories (Carya spp), Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra)

When using herbicides remember to follow label-recommendations.  Any mention of trade, products, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by North Carolina State University.

Back to top

NC Forest ServiceNC Cooperative Extension