How do you identify it?
The bark of tree-of-heaven is smooth and gray with furrows. Leaves are quite large and compound with smooth edges on the margins of leaflets. It has winged fruit that is flat and twisted.
Why is it invasive?
The tree flourishes in disturbed areas and is common along roadsides. It is tolerant of pollution and poor soils. In forests, the tree can out-compete native plants. It grows quickly, sprouts and has winged seeds that allow it to disperse with wind. As a result, it can spread and reproduce quickly. Moreover, it is the preferred host of the spotted lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula, an invasive insect that was recently found in North Carolina. The insect is a pest of agricultural and ornamental plants, and tree-of-heaven may facilitate its spread.
How can you manage it?
Smaller trees may be removed by hand, but this requires that the entire root system be removed to prevent resprouting. Larger trees can be cut, but the stump must be treated with an herbicide. Basal bark sprays, foliar applications and the hack-and-squirt method may be used with herbicides such as triclopyr. Make sure to follow all label instructions.
Controlling Invasive Trees with Herbicides (video, N.C. Tree Farm Program)
Learn steps you can take to get rid of invasive trees on your Tree Farm.
Invasive Species Leaflet IS-01 Ailanthus altissima (North Carolina Forest Service)
In North Carolina, A. altissima is most prevalent in the Piedmont and mountains but also can be found on the coastal plain. An individual A. altissima tree can produce several hundred thousand seeds per year, and the light winged seeds can be carried great distances from the parent plant. It grows vigorously and establishes dense, clonal thickets that can displace native vegetation. The ability of A. altisimma to tolerate poor soils and atmospheric pollution make it a common colonizer in urban areas. Roadways provide the perfect migration routes for this tree.
Tree-of-Heaven: Furiously Aggressive Invasive (Blue Ridge PRISM)
A serious agricultural pest, tree-of-heaven is fast-growing and weak-wooded, and often forms dense thickets. It destroys the value of pastures, hayfields, woodlands and timber because the tree out-competes desirable plants by poisoning the soil with toxins exuded from its roots and fallen leaves. Where it grows near buildings, its roots can penetrate sewer lines and foundations. It is a preferred host for the spotted lanternfly, which threatens to become a serious agricultural problem by ruining fruit crops.
Tree-of-Heaven (Penn State Extension)
Due to its extensive root system and resprouting ability, tree-of-heaven is difficult to control. Treatment timing and following up the second year are critical to success. Mechanical methods such as cutting or mowing are ineffective as the tree responds by producing large numbers of stump sprouts and root suckers. When cutting tree-of-heaven is necessary to remove potentially hazardous trees, it is best to treat with an herbicide first, wait for symptoms to develop (approximately 30 days) and then cut.
Fifteen Minutes in the Forest: Invasive Plants I (video, Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program)
The third section of this video discusses tree-of-heaven.
Killing Tree-of-Heaven: How, Why and When (video, Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program)
Part of the Fifteen Minutes in the Forest Series, this video discusses identification and control of this non-native invasive tree.
Tree-of-Heaven Control Strategies (video, Penn State Extension)
This video discusses herbicide control of tree-of-heaven.