Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Tree-of-heaven - Ailanthus altissima   (P. Miller) SwingleOnly member of Ailanthus in NC.
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Section 6 » Order Sapindales » Family Simaroubaceae
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Author(P. Miller) Swingle
DistributionPiedmont and Mountains; scarce in the Coastal Plain. First reported from NC in 1917 by I.F. Lewis from Shackleford Bank (Carteret County), but not clear if planted or not. Naturalized plants were first found in 1921 in Tryon, Polk County, by D.C. Peattie. Then "Rocky Ridge Farm" (what county?) in 1931 by H.R. Totten, and edge of UNC campus (Orange County) in 1939 and 1941. By the mid-late 1950s, it was rather widespread in NC.

Native of eastern Asia; in N.A. throughout the U.S. except the Dakotas, MT, WY. Also in Que., B.C.
AbundanceGenerally common, at least locally, in the Piedmont; fairly common in the Mountains; rare to uncommon in the Coastal Plain. This ill-smelling tree has invaded disturbed and semi-natural, even truly natural, habitats over much of the eastern US and is considered a noxious weed.
HabitatDisturbed woods, natural forests, atop outcrops and ledges, pastures, farm woodlots, roadsides, railroads and RR yards; spontaneous in back yards, waste ground, suburban and urban vacant lots.
PhenologyFlowering May-June; fruiting July-October.
IdentificationTree-of-heaven is easily recognized by its size as a small to medium sized tree, the long leaves divided into 7-8 or so pairs of sub-opposite, ovate leaflets. Small flowers grow in profusion from axillary panicles, followed later in the year by masses of fruits that vaguely resemble those of a maple (Acer) but taper to both ends and which have a prominent central spot (the seed inside). The foliage turns orange-red in fall. The leaves and twigs have a rank and foul smell. It can be confused with Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), but its leaflets lack teeth and have small "ear-lobes" at the base of each leaflet; walnut leaflets have small teeth and have a rounded leaf base.
Taxonomic Comments
Other Common Name(s)
State RankSE
Global RankGNR
State Status
US Status
USACE-agcpFACU link
USACE-empFACU link
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
Photo Gallery
B.A. SorrieSame area, Aug 2014. MoorePhoto_non_natural
B.A. SorrieRoadside, Carthage, May 2015. MoorePhoto_non_natural

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