All Things Were Not Created Equal

weeds with alianthus seedlingLook at this great tree seedling, all 1 year’s growth of it.  No, I didn’t fertilize it, nor is it a GMO.

This tall, very green tree actually brings up feelings and thoughts I would never think of having towards other trees.  What kind of feelings and thoughts?  Things like:

  • if I pour antifreeze over the roots how long would it take to die?
  • antifreeze would really harm the ground water … what about highly concentrated salt water?
  • am I allowed to “open burn” in town if it is to burn out a stump?

As someone who loves trees, loves being in the woods, even went to school to study more about our forests and natural resources, getting jobs after graduation working with them, it takes a lot for me to have these feelings about a tree.  This tree, however, is not your average tree.  Just look at the pictures above, of the 1 year old sapling.  Was that enough emphasis on the fact that it is only 1 year old?!

Alianthus altissima or Tree of Heaven, is a non-native, invasive plant. And it definitely is not from Heaven.  Quite the opposite. To say that it is hard to get rid of is an understatement.  This tree spreads through prolific root sprouts, showing up hundreds of feet away from the main tree.  This particular seedling is about 100 feet away from the mature Alianthus tree in our yard.

one year old alianthus seedlings

Tree of Heaven one year old seedling

If you think cutting down a mature tree is the best way to get rid of this problem, then you may have think again.  As much as it like to spread by root sprouts is also produces lots of stump sprouts.  You also can’t use the wood chips on your landscaping, unless you want more trees there also.  Yup, they weren’t kidding when they said “invasive” with this tree.

I’ve worked in areas where these trees are pretty common.  They take over and shade out the native trees.  Not only is this bad for the local flora (plants) but also the animals that depend upon those trees.  The plan of attack there was more of trying to keep the trees from spreading more than they already had.  To try and remove these on a large scale would get expensive quickly.

A few years later I found myself working in a different part of the country, in a different climate.  When a tree plan came listing Alianthus as a possible tree on a site set for development I was surprised.  Surely the tree hadn’t made it this far West.  Thankfully the person was wrong.  The tree was a Mulberry tree.

A few years after that we moved to yet a different state, this time further north.  Where it is cold.  The house we bought has a lot of trees.  A few were in poor condition so we called out a tree company to take care of them.  It was in the process of them walking around the yard that one of the Arborists identified this tree.  I had been wondering what this one was, stumped that I couldn’t identify it.  It didn’t help that it has been given a “high and tight” haircut that would have made any army sergeant proud.  All the limbs had been trimmed up above 40 feet.  So I’m giving myself a bit of grace here, it isn’t exactly like I could look at one of the buds.  Well, at least that was the case until the first root sprout appeared.

One of the best identifying characteristics of this tree is the smell.  Peanut butter to be exact.  There are a lot of trees with compound leaves, but the smell is not common.  Virginia Tech has a great publication out showing in more detail some of other identifying traits.  (I’m working on improving my photography skills when it comes to capturing leaf scars and buds.  They have some great pictures at the link above.)  They also list appropriate chemicals to be used in control of this plant – things more appropriate than antifreeze (which really wouldn’t work on this tree anyway, so please don’t try that method).