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Tree of Heaven

(Ailanthus altissima)

Photo of tree of heaven
Photo credit: Stephen L Solheim

Rapidly growing trees that can reach 80’ or more. Tree of Heaven has smooth stems, pale gray bark and light brown twigs. Leaves and male flowers have a strong odor of rotten peanuts.

Overview map of tree of heaven classification in WI
Restricted (orange) counties

Other names for this plant include:

  • Common names: China sumac, stink tree, ailanthus
  • Scientific names: A. glandulosa; Rhus cacodendron

Classification in Wisconsin: Restricted

Ecological Threat
  • Aggressive invaders of urban areas, fields, roadsides, fencerows, woodland edges and forest openings. It may occur as seedlings in recently planted fields.
  • Prolific seed producers, once established, can form an impenetrable thicket.
  • Allelopathic; the plant produces toxic chemicals to other organisms, both plants and insects.

Leaves: Large, alternate, pinnately compound, 1-4’ long. They are composed of 11-25 entire leaflets except for 1 to several glandular teeth near the base.

Flowers: Small; yellow-green; 5-6 petals; borne in dense clusters near ends of upper branches in late spring; dioecious.

Fruits & seeds: Green turning pink to tan, papery, two-winged samaras in clusters. Develop in late summer to early fall and may remain on the tree through winter.

Roots: Aggressive; spreading rhizomes.

Similar species: Black walnut (Juglans nigra), butternut (Juglans cinerea), and some species of sumac (Rhus spp.). The leaf margins of the look-alikes have tiny teeth, except winged sumac, while those of the tree of heaven is smooth.


Mechanical: Seedlings can be removed by hand. Trees may be cut at ground level with a saw, most effective when the tree has begun to flower. Re-sprouts may occur after treatment and successful control will require repeated cutting.

Chemical: Foliar spray with either glyphosate or triclopyr ester from June-September. Basal bark with triclopyr ester during the summer—cut-stump treatment with triclopyr or glyphosate.

For more information on control techniques, visit the Tree-of-Haven factsheet [exit DNR] by the University of Wisconsin-Extension.

Sources for content:
  • Czarapata, Elizabeth; Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest: an illustrated guide to their identification and control. The University of Wisconsin Press. 2005. Pg. 87-88
Links for more information: