Tree of Heaven

Tree of heaven, (TOH) (Ailanthus altissima), is an invasive deciduous tree native to  China and Taiwan. It was intentionally introduced to the US as an ornamental shade tree. 


Tree of heaven is an invasive tree that is favored by the spotted lanternfly (SLF) as a host plant.  SLF is an invasive insect that threatens over 70 plant species including grapevines, apple & orchard trees, hops, maple & nut trees. 

The aggressive root system of TOH can damage pavement, sewers, and building foundations. The plant reproduces quickly and secretes a chemical in the soil that inhibits the growth of plants near it. 

Tree of heaven is a very high pollen producer and therefore may cause seasonal allergies in some people. Depending on sensitivity, some people may develop skin irritation if they come into contact with the leaves, branches, seeds, and bark of TOH. In some cases, exposure to the sap through broken skin, blisters or cuts can cause inflammation of the heart muscle. Gloves and protective gear should be worn by those who have extensive contact with TOH. 


Size: Tree-of-heaven can quickly grow to reach heights of 80 feet and up to 6 feet in diameter.

Leaves are pinnately compound, with 10-40 leaflets per leaf, and have an alternate arrangement. Leaflets have smooth edges and two or more glandular teeth at the base that give off a foul odor.  

TOH have a “V” shaped leaf scar and a light brown, corky pith that have a burnt peanut butter odor. 

Bark is smooth and brownish-green while young, and eventually turns light brown to gray in color to resemble the skin of a cantaloupe.

Seeds are numerous and only found on female trees. Samaras are winged with a single seed and grow in large clusters that remain attached for some time after the tree has dropped its leaves.

Image taken from the SLELO PRISM invasive species handbook, click image to view.
  • Destroying all Ailanthus trees in a stand may result in the spread of spotted lanternflies and increase the pest pressure on surrounding plant populations.  It is recommended by PennState Extention to leave 10% of Ailanthus in a stand to serve as trap trees to attract SLF. Leave only male trees if possible. 
  • CLICK to view an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach for controlling TOH with spotted lanternfly infestations.
  • Be sure to consider the removal of tree debris from the control site in your treatment plan. 

Manual: For small infestations, pull out seedling by hand before the taproot develops and be sure the entire root system is removed.  

Cutting: Temporarily reduces female ability to spread seeds and may result in increased growth and tree density from root suckers. Cutting is most effective when integrated with chemical treatments. 

Chemical:  Apply systemic herbicides when the tree is moving carbohydrate to its roots- in mid to late summer (July to the onset of fall leaf color). Applying herbicides prior to this time only damages aboveground growth rather than killing the root system.  Always follow chemical label instructions. Multi-year applications may be required. 

Apply foliar sprays to the leaves. To avoid contact with desirable plants, this technique is best applied when trees are short and the poulation is dense. 

Basal bark applications are a target-specific form of chemical control best applied on trunks less than 6 inches in basal diameter. Apply a concentrated mixture of the ester formulation of triclopyr in oil to the bark of the trunk, starting from the ground line to a height of 12-18 inches and completely around the stem. 

For a highly selective treatment option, cut the stem at a downward angle then apply herbicide concentration directly to the cut. For dense stands follow up foliar treatments with bark or hack-and-squirt application on the remaining larger stems. 

Well-established TOH stands require repeated efforts and monitoring as initial treatments often only reduce the root sytems. 

PennState Extension. Click Image for resource link.

Prevent the introduction of invasive species into the SLELO PRISM.

Rapidly detect new and recent invaders and eliminate all individuals within a specific area.

Share resources, including funding personnel, equipment, information, and expertise.

Collect, utilize, and share information regarding surveys, infestations, control methods, monitoring, and research.

Control invasive species infestations by using best management practices, methods and techniques to include: ERADICATION (which is to eliminate all individuals and the seed bank from an area), CONTAINMENT (which is reducing the spread of established infestations from entering an uninfested area) and SUPPRESSION which is to reduce the density but not necessarily the total infested area.

Develop and implement effective restoration methods for areas that have been degraded by invasive species and where suppression or control has taken place.

Increase public awareness and understanding of invasive species.

Develop and implement innovative technologies that help us to better understand, visualize, alleviate or manage invasive species and their impacts or that serve to strengthen ecosystem function and/or processes.

Rob Williams
PRISM Coordinator

Megan Pistolese
Outreach and Education

Brittney Rogers
Aquatic Invasive Species

Robert Smith
Terrestrial Invasive Species