Tree of Heaven

Biological Name:

Ailanthus altissima (Tree-of-Heaven)

Natural Habitat:

Tree-of-Heaven: This plant is native to China, but it has been introduced to many other parts of the world. It can grow in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and disturbed areas.


Tree-of-Heaven also known as Ailanthus is a plant that is native to grassland and prairie regions of North America. It is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 80 feet tall and it has large compound leaves and small inconspicuous flowers that are typically green or yellow in color. The plant is known for its ability to grow quickly and aggressively and it is often considered a weed in urban and suburban environments.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Why is the tree called Tree of Heaven?
A: Why the early popularity of tree-of-heaven? Fryer (2010) states that the scientific name, Ailanthus (i.e. sky-tree) and the common name, tree-of-heaven, refer to this tree’s ability to grow towards the sky very quickly.

Q: What does the tree of heaven symbolize?
A: Tree of Heaven It symbolizes perseverance and hope amidst hardship.

Q: What eats the tree of heaven?
A: Tree-of-heaven usually has low palatability for grazers; however, livestock (cattle, sheep, and goats) and deer will consume it during certain times of the year under specific circumstances. Goats will eat leaves and bark. Deer will browse leaves during the summer—especially in shady, forested areas.

Q: Is Tree of Heaven poisonous to humans?
A: Tree of heaven could be tree of hell if you are allergic to the flower pollen, and serious dermatitis can result from skin contact with the sap. Yet the entire plant offers healing qualities and is used as a mainstay in traditional Chinese medicine.

Q: Is Tree of Heaven poisonous to touch?
A: Handling the leaves and branches of this tree can cause a skin rash due to exposure to the sap. Be especially careful if you have open wounds on your arms or hands. The sap has been known to cause myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle.

Q: Should I cut down Tree of Heaven?
A: 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.

Q: Is Tree of Heaven good for anything?
A: Tree of heaven is a plant. The dried bark from the trunk and root are sometimes used in folk medicine. Tree of heaven is used for diarrhea, asthma, cramps, epilepsy, fast heart rate, gonorrhea, and other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.

Q: Can you get a rash from Tree of Heaven?
A: Be sure to wear protective clothing when dealing with Tree of Heaven. Some people receive an allergic reaction to the pollen of Tree of Heaven and some people develop a rash from exposure to Tree of Heaven sap. Chance of reaction increases with increased exposure to pollen/ sap.

Q: Does Tree of Heaven smell?
A: Before removing tree-of-heaven, you should know that it is often confused with black walnut (Juglans nigra) and sumac (Rhus spp.). One of its distinctive features is that male flowers and crushed leaves smell like burnt peanut butter.

Q: How do I permanently remove a Tree of Heaven?
A: Herbicides are usually the most effective way to kill the root system of mature tree-of-heaven and to control regrowth from cut trees that occurs as sprouts or root suckers.

Q: What is the lifespan of the Tree of Heaven?
A: The tree grows rapidly, and is capable of reaching heights of 15 metres (49 ft) in 25 years. While the species rarely lives more than 50 years, some specimens exceed 100 years of age.

Q: What damage does the Tree of Heaven cause?
A: The notorious plant wipes out native species with its dense thicket and toxins it excretes into the soil. It also emits a bad smell from its flowers; has no natural predators; and serves as a sanctuary for destructive invasive insects, such as the spotted lanternfly. (See pictures of 11 sacred and iconic trees.)

Q: Is Tree of Heaven toxic to animals?
A: The roots of Tree of Heaven can readily damage sewer systems and foundations; the leaves are toxic to domestic animals, and contact with the sap may produce skin rashes.

Q: Are tree of heaven trees invasive?
A: The tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is a rapidly growing deciduous tree native to China that has become a widespread invasive species across North America.

Q: How long do tree of heaven trees live?
A: Perennial but generally a short-lived tree (30 to 50 years). Bark is light brown to pale grey when mature; smooth bark becomes more rough and fissured on trunk. Branches are grey, glossy and smooth with raised dots that become fissures with age.

About the author

Samuel is a gardening professional and enthusiast who has spent over 20 years advising homeowners and farm owners on weed identification, prevention and removal. He has an undergraduate degree in plant and soil science from Michigan State University.