Tree Of Heaven (Ailanthus Altissima)

Plant: Table of Contents

The Versatile Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

The tree of heaven, Ailanthus altissima, is a fascinating and versatile plant that is known for its rapid growth and adaptability to various conditions. Cultivated for both its ornamental and practical uses, this tree has gained widespread popularity in landscaping and urban forestry. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the characteristics, culture, uses, and maintenance of Ailanthus altissima, as well as explore its ecological impact, medicinal uses, and much more.

Key Takeaways

Before we delve into the details, let’s summarize some key takeaways about the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima):

  • Ailanthus altissima is a fast-growing deciduous tree that is known for its adaptive nature and can thrive in a wide range of environmental conditions.
  • It is commonly used in landscaping and urban forestry due to its tolerance to urban pollution and its ability to thrive in compacted soils and harsh climates.
  • The tree of heaven has been traditionally used in herbal medicine and has a rich cultural significance in various parts of the world.
  • While valued for its ornamental beauty and practical uses, the tree of heaven is also considered invasive in certain regions, requiring careful management and control.

Now, let’s explore the various aspects of Ailanthus altissima in detail.

What is Ailanthus Altissima?

Tree of Heaven Identification

  • Ailanthus altissima, commonly known as the tree of heaven, is a deciduous tree belonging to the family Simaroubaceae. It is widely recognized for its rapid growth, often reaching heights of 70 to 100 feet (21 to 30 meters) with a broad crown.

Ailanthus Altissima Growth

The rapid growth of Ailanthus altissima makes it suitable for providing quick shade and screening in landscapes. Its pinnately compound leaves and clusters of small, green-yellow flowers add to its distinctive appearance. The tree of heaven also produces long, slender seed pods, which are a distinguishing feature during the growing season.

Ailanthus Altissima Characteristics

Tree of Heaven Facts

  • Scientific Name: Ailanthus altissima
  • Family: Simaroubaceae
  • Common Names: Tree of heaven, stinking sumac, Chinese sumac
  • Native Range: Northern and Central China


Tree of Heaven Uses

  • Ailanthus altissima is renowned for its diverse uses, ranging from landscaping and urban forestry to traditional medicine and beekeeping. The following are some of the primary uses of this versatile tree:

Landscaping and Urban Forestry

The tree of heaven is favored for its ability to thrive in various urban environments, making it a popular choice for urban landscapes, roadside plantings, and reforestation projects. Its tolerance to pollution and adaptability to different soil types make it an ideal candidate for urban greening initiatives.

Medicinal Uses

In traditional Chinese medicine, various parts of the Ailanthus altissima tree, including the bark, leaves, and roots, have been used for their purported medicinal properties. The tree has been employed to address ailments such as dysentery, asthma, and parasitic infections.

Bee Forage

The nectar and pollen produced by tree of heaven flowers are attractive to bees, making it a valuable inclusion in beekeeping operations. The tree can provide a source of forage for bees during its flowering season, contributing to the maintenance of healthy bee populations.

Environment and Climate


Water Requirements

  • Ailanthus altissima has moderate water requirements, particularly during its establishment phase. While it can tolerate occasional drought, consistent moisture is beneficial for its growth and overall health. However, it is important to avoid waterlogging, as excessive soil moisture can be detrimental to the tree’s root system.


Sunlight Needs

The tree of heaven thrives in full sun to partial shade, displaying its best growth and form when provided with ample sunlight. When planted in shaded areas, it may exhibit reduced vigor and a more open growth habit.


Soil Requirements

  • Ailanthus altissima is adaptable to a wide range of soil types, including compacted and nutrient-poor soils. It can tolerate acidic, alkaline, and saline soils, making it well-suited for challenging urban environments. However, it performs best in well-drained soils with pH levels ranging from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline.



While Ailanthus altissima is known for its ability to thrive in nutrient-poor soils, providing supplemental fertilization can promote healthier growth, especially in urban settings where soil quality may be compromised. Fertilize the tree in early spring with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer to support its overall vigor.



Pruning Requirements

Pruning is essential for shaping the tree of heaven and managing its growth. Regular pruning can help maintain a strong central leader and remove any dead or damaged branches. Additionally, pruning can help control the tree’s size and shape to suit the desired landscape design.


Propagation Methods

Ailanthus altissima can be propagated through several methods, including seed propagation and root suckers. Collecting and germinating seeds or propagating root cuttings are common approaches for establishing new tree of heaven specimens.

Container Popularity

Container Gardening

While the tree of heaven is primarily grown in outdoor landscapes, it can also be cultivated in large containers or planters. This allows individuals with limited outdoor space to enjoy the beauty and benefits of this versatile tree.

Container Care

When grown in containers, Ailanthus altissima requires regular watering and occasional fertilization to support its growth. Choose a large, sturdy container with adequate drainage to accommodate the tree’s root system and minimize the need for frequent repotting.

Common Diseases and Pests

Disease Diagnosis

  • Ailanthus altissima is susceptible to certain diseases that can impact its health and vitality. Common diseases that affect the tree of heaven include:

  • Verticillium Wilt

  • Anthracnose
  • Leaf Spots

Common Pests

In addition to diseases, the tree of heaven can also face infestations from various pests, including:

  • Scale Insects
  • Lepidopteran Caterpillars
  • Spider Mites

Botanist’s Tips

Ailanthus Altissima Best Practices

  1. When selecting a site for planting, consider the tree of heaven’s potential for rapid growth and ensure that it has ample space to reach its mature size without interfering with nearby structures or utilities.
  2. Prune the tree regularly to maintain a balanced and healthy canopy, promoting proper air circulation and reducing the risk of disease and pest infestations.
  3. Monitor the tree for any signs of stress, disease, or pest activity, and take proactive measures to address any issues promptly.
  4. If the tree of heaven is being cultivated in areas where it is considered invasive, take precautions to limit its spread and prevent it from outcompeting native vegetation.

Fun Facts

  • The tree of heaven is known for its robust root system, which enables it to thrive in challenging soil conditions and contributes to its overall resilience.
  • Ailanthus altissima has been the subject of several cultural references and has been featured in literature, art, and folklore over the centuries.
  • The tree’s common name, “tree of heaven,” is believed to have originated from its rapid growth and ability to provide shade and shelter in urban settings.

Links to External Resources

For additional information about Ailanthus altissima, its characteristics, and cultivation, refer to the following resources:

In conclusion, the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) stands out as a remarkably adaptable and multipurpose tree, offering a myriad of practical and ecological benefits, alongside considerations for its management and control in certain regions. Whether admired for its ornamental beauty, utilized for its traditional medicinal properties, or managed for its ecological impact, this versatile tree continues to captivate the interest of plant enthusiasts, conservationists, and urban planners alike.


Picture of Peter Taylors

Peter Taylors

Expert botanist who loves plants. His expertise spans taxonomy, plant ecology, and ethnobotany. An advocate for plant conservation, he mentors and educates future botanists, leaving a lasting impact on the field.