Common names (selected) English China-sumac, ghetto palm, tree-of-heaven, stinktree, varnish tree; Chinese: 臭椿 (foul-smelling tree); French: ailante, ailante glanduleux, arbre des dieux, arbre du ciel, faux vernis du Japon, verno, vernis de la Chine; German: Götterbaum; Italian: ailanto, albero del paradiso; Russian (transliterated): ajlant vysočajšij; Spanish: arbol del cielo, zumaque falso
Description: deciduous tree
Native ranges and distribution: Native to northern and central China and north Oceania. It is currently found on every continent of world except Antarctica.
Urban habitat: Prolific fruiting, ready germination, adaptability to infertile sites and rapid growth rate make A. altissima a noxious weed in many countries where it has been introduced. It grows well in full sun as well as shade on dry rocky or sandy soil, and is found along highway and railroad embankments, vacant lots, in cracks between asphalt and concrete. Drought tolerant and opportunistic, it is tolerant of a variety of industrial pollutants. It is reported to contain allelopathic chemicals that suppress growth of nearby plants. Death or damage to its main stem usually results in prolific root sprouting and its spreading roots can be found up to 90 ft from its parent stem. Its growth has been found to accelerate greatly in high temperature and high CO2 levels found in the summer within urban environments.
Ecological functions: Habitat for wildlife. Due to its ability to tolerate stressful urban conditions including heat buildup, drought, air pollution, and road salt, A. altissima can provide heat reduction in paved areas. It also has a function for slope stabilization and soil building on degraded land
History/human uses: A. altissima was introduced into North America three different times (in 1784 in Pennsylvania, in 1820 in New York, and in the mid-1800’s in California) as an ornamental tree and within 50 years had become naturalized in both urban and rural areas across the US and in Hawaii. A. altissima was so common by the early 20th century that it was celebrated in Betty Smith’s 1943 novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In China, Ailanthus bark, leaves, and fruit are used in traditional medicine for treatment of breast tumors, diarrhea, dysentery, leukorrhea, and tapeworm. The bark purportedly contains several anti-malarial compounds. In Korea, the root bark is used in the treatment of coughs, gastric and intestinal upsets. In other parts of the world, A. altissima is used in a folk remedies to treat asthma, cancer, dysmenorrhoea, dysuria, epilepsy, eruption, fever, gonorrhoea, hematochezia, leucorrhoea, malaria, metrorrhagia, sores, spasms, spermatorrhoea, stomachic, and ulcers.