Tree of Heaven

Tree of heaven is a very undesirable import from China, perhaps better described by an alternative name, stinking sumac. It grows like crazy along roadsides or wherever it can access the sun. Over the last few years, ERG has eliminated over 5,500 tree of heaven from Beverly Shores roadsides, but it remains a threat as substantial numbers can be found on private property throughout town. It is a prolific seed producer that can in poor soils. Continuing vigilance is crucial to controlling this threat.

Tree of heaven has compound leaves similar to native sumac, but sumac leaflets have serrated edges. Break off a leaf and smell the base. Tree of heaven leaves smell like rancid peanut butter.

According to the USDA Forest Service, “Tree-of-heaven poses human health risks. The pollen can cause an allergic reaction. The sap causes a dermatitis reaction in some people, and prolonged exposure of broken skin to sap can have serious consequences. For at least one tree remover, exposure to tree-of-heaven sap on rope burns resulted in an elevated heart rate and chest pain that was severe enough to require hospitalization for several days ”

Tree of heaven grows on roadsides and open areas. It is the most invasive plant in the Northeast and has become common in the upper Midwest. You can see great swathes of tree of heaven lining much of I-94 in Michigan. It is most common in urban areas, where it cracks concrete walks, house foundations, and sewers, but it spread rapidly once it reached Beverly Shores. It is likely the fastest growning tree in North America, growing 3 to 6 feet per year in its first four years.
Tree of heaven grows rapidly, reaching 60 feet tall, but it has a short lifespan of 30 years or so and is a weak tree likely to blow down in storms. Be carful when touching it (see above). It produces an allelopathic chemical called ailanthone, which inhibits the growth of other plants. One study found that an extract of its toxic chemical was lethal to a large number of hardwoods and conifers.
Young trees can be pulled up. Cutting older trees just encourages suckering and resprouting. Contact ERG for professional treatment.
ToH on Merrivale

Tree of heaven bordering a driveway on Merrivale


Tree of heaven leaf, early spring.

ToH stand

Tree of heaven in canopy, Beverly Drive

ERG's Tree of Heaven Mapping Project in Beverly Shores

We are attempting to map the locations of tree of heaven in Beverly Shores. You can help. Use the Compass App on your smartphone to obtain the location of any tree of heaven you see. Send us the location (degrees, minutes, seconds, North and West) from the bottom of the Compass App. Thank you for your assistance in battling this very troublesome invader.

Beverly Shores Environmental Restoration Group,
P.O. Box 667, Beverly Shores, IN 46301