Ailanthus altissimaSimaroubaceae
Whole Plant
Whole PlantFlowerHabitat
Photos (c) Cheryl Comeau Beaton unless otherwise noted


  • Copal tree
  • Ailanthus glandulosa

The Plant:

  • A medium, deciduous shade tree with a spreading and open shape. Typically 40-60 feet tall and shaped wide. Fast growing.

The Leaves:

  • dark green
  • alternate
  • pinnately compound
  • up to 25 leaflets
  • 1-2 coarse teeth at leaf base
  • large gland beneath teeth
  • tropical looking
  • crushed leaves emit acrid odor

The Stem:

  • gray
  • extremely smooth
  • light vertical streaks
  • damaged twigs emit acrid odor

The Flowers:

  • Inconspicuous yellow panicles of five-petaled flowers. Dioecious
  • male flowers emit acrid odor. Blooms from early to mid June.

The Fruits:

  • samara
  • yellow to red maturing to brown
  • wing of fruit twists
  • September-October
  • fruits persists

The Habitat:

  • tolerant of urban conditions
  • seaside, roadside


  • seeds are carried primarily by wind
  • moving water
  • reproduces vegetatively by root suckers
  • resprouts from cut stems

Key ID Features:

  • medium shade tree
  • deciduous
  • alternate
  • up to 25 leaflets
  • tropical look
  • bruised leaves emit odor
  • bark gray, smooth, light vertical streaks

Similar Species:

  • Sumacs (Rhus typhina, R. glabra, R. copallina): Sumacs have leaves with toothed margins, and the fruits are tight clusters of small red berries.
  • Black walnut (Juglans nigra) and Butternut (J. cinerea): Pinnately compound leaves and hard-coated green fruits or nuts
  • Tree-of-heaven leaves have smooth margins with slightly lobed bases. The fruits are papery-winged samaras.


  • Tree of Heaven can be found growing in any disturbed areas. It produces lots (350,000) of seeds and has a rapid growth rate. The toxins which are produced within the leaves and bark inhibit growth around the tree as toxins accumulate in the soil.
  • On Nantucket, there are four known populations of this species. At least two are spreading to natural areas, the largest one being on Mill Hill.

Growth Form: Tree

Origin: China

Level of Invasiveness for Nantucket: Invasive

Level of Invasiveness for Massachusetts: Invasive

Massachusetts Cultivation Restrictions: importation ban, propagation ban

Credits: The Electronic Field Guide to the Invasive Plants of Nantucket (c) 2005-2006 Maria Mitchell Association, EFG Project, UMass Boston