Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle
Syn.: Ailanthus glandulosa Desf.
Tree-of-heaven, China sumac
Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.
- Folk Medicine
- Yields and Economics
- Biotic Factors
A tree that will grow in Brooklyn, Washington, and Peking, this "weed tree" can
be a handsome "tropical-looking" ornamental with its compound leaves sometimes
overtopped by reddish to yellowish clusters of winged fruits. It is used for
erosion control, shade, and shelter where few other trees will thrive. Though
little used, except in poorer countries, the wood is suitable for cabinetry,
cellulose manufacture, furniture, lumber, pulp, and woodwork. It is difficult
to split but easy to work and polish. The wood is locally used for charcoal
and firewood. Leaves have been used as adulterants of belladonna and senna.
Plant parts steeped in water and said to yield an insecticidal solution.
According to Hartwell (19671971), the tree is used in homeopathic "remedies"
for cancer. Reported to be antiseptic, astringent, bactericidal, cardiac,
cathartic, deobstruent, depressant, emetic, protisticidal, taenifuge, and
vermifuge, tree-of-heaven is a folk remedy for asthma, cancer, diarrhea,
dysentery, dysmenorrhea, dysuria, ejaculation (premature), epilepsy, eruption,
fever, gonorrhea, hematochezia, leucorrhea, malaria, metrorrhagia, sores,
spasms, spermatorrhea, stomachic, tumors of the breast (China), and wet dreams
(Duke and Wain, 1981). From Manchuria to the Malay Peninsula, various parts of
Ailanthus altissima are considered to be medicinal. The fruits are used
for ophthalmic diseases. In Manchuria, the fruit is a remedy for dysentery.
In China, it is bechic, emmenagogue, and used for hemorrhoids. In Korea, the
root bark is used for cough, gastric and intestinal upsets. The vermifuge
properties do not act on round worms or earthworms. Resin extracted from the
roots and leaves is a revulsive or vesicant. The disagreeable odor of the
plant may cause some people to feel sleepy. The leaves, bark of the trunk, and
roots are put into a wash for parasitic ulcers, itch, and eruptions (Perry,
Per 100 g, the seed is reported to contain 27.527.6 g protein and 55.559.1 g
fat (Duke and Atchley, 1983). The bark contains oleoresin, resin, some
mucilage, ceryl alcohol, ailanthin, "quassiin," calcium oxalate crystals, and
isoquercetin (quercitin 3-glycoside), tannin, phlobaphene, ceryl palmitate,
saponin, quassin, and neoquassin (Perry, 1980; List and Horhammer, 19691979).
Hager's Handbook (List and Horhammer (19691979) adds that the leaves contain
12% tannin, quercetin, as well as isoquercetin, and the alkaloid linuthine.
Seeds contain quassiin.
Leaves are toxic to domestic animals (Perry, 1980). Gardeners who fell the
tree may suffer rashes. Mitchell and Rook's observations are more violent than
my own to sniffing the leaves, "The odour of the foliage is intensely
disagreeable and can cause headache and nausea...rhinitis and
conjunctivitis...The pollen can cause hay fever." (Mitchell and Rook, 1979).
Deciduous tree, usually dioecious, 610(-30) m tall; trunk 30(-100) cm or more
in diameter. Bark light brown or gray, smoothish, thin, becoming rough with
long fissures and dark ridges. Leaves alternate, pinnately compound 3060 cm
long, hairy when young, crushed foliage with disagreeable odor but suggestive
of peanuts. Leaflets 1341, short-stalked, broadly lanceolate, 7.513 cm long,
1.55 cm wide, acuminate, with 25 teeth near Insided base. Panicles large,
1525 cm long; flowers many, 6 mm long, greenish or greenish-yellow, with
5-lobed calyx, 5 narrow petals. Male flowers with 10 stamens and disagreeable
odor. Female flowers with 25 nearly separate pistils united at base. Samaras
many, 15 from a flower, 35 cm long, 1 cm wide, with reddish or
purplish-brown, flat, slightly twisted wing. Seed 1 in middle, 6 mm long,
elliptical, flattened (Little, 1983).
Reported from the China-Japan Center of Diversity, tree-of-heaven, or cvs
thereof, is reported to tolerate alkalinity, disease, drought, frost, heat,
high pH, hydrogen fluoride, insects, low pH, pollution, poor soil, SO2 and
waterlogging. (2n= 80)
Native to China and Taiwan, it is only fitting that missionaries should
introduce the "tree-of-heaven" to Europe in 1751 and to the US in 1784. It is
listed as a serious weed in Australia and is widely spread, weedlike, in all
Estimated to range from Subtropical Dry to Wet through Cool Temperate Dry to
Wet Forest Life Zones, tree-of-heaven is estimated to tolerate annual
precipitation of 3 to 25 dm (tolerating a dry season up to 8 months), annual
temperature of 10° to 20°C, and pH of 5.5 to 8.0. Growing on the smallest of
city plots and rubbish heaps, this species obviously can tolerate a wide array
of soils, from acid to alkaline, sand to light clay, well-drained to swampy,
poor to rich. It is said to do poorly on chalky soils or compact clay (Little,
A prolific seeder, spreading also by root suckers and coppicing readily, we
might better study how to get rid of than to cultivate this "weed tree."
Planting root cuttings of male trees would eliminate the seeding problem,
however, augmenting the bad odor in the process. Root suckers can be
problematic in fields as well as sidewalks and buildings. Seed stratified over
winter should be spring sown, covered with ca 1215 mm soil, one kg seed
yielding 6,500 usable plants (Ag- Handbook 450).
Perhaps the branches should be lopped for fuel before the seeds mature, stored
until winter to dry. One hundred kg fruits will yield 3090 kg seed. Seeds
should be stored in sealed containers, with low moisture content, at ca
13°C. Trees coppice readily.
I find no yield data, but suspect that it yields as well as Paulownia in our
Maryland climate. NAS (1980a) reports that it can grow 34 m in height during
a 5-month growing season. I would estimate that 20 m3/ha is possible
for this light wood.
Like most of our herbaceous and woody weeds, this too has been suggested as an
energy candidate. The yellow wood, moderately hard and heavy is used for
charcoal and firewood in many countries. I have heard no reports of toxicity
from the smoke.
Agriculture Handbook 165 lists the following as affecting this species:
Armillaria mellea (mushroom root rot), Botryodiplodia ailanthi
var. chromogena, Camarosporium berkeleyanum, Cercospora glandulosa (leaf
spot), Colletotrichum tertium, Coniothyrium insitivum, Cytospora ailanthi,
Daedalea unicolor (butt rot), Diaporthe medusaea, Dimerosporium
robiniae (black mildew), ?Diplodia ailanthi (twig blight), D.
natalensis (twig blight), Eutypella glandulosa, E. microcarpa, Fusarium
lateritium (twig blight), Gloeosporium ailanthi (leaf spot),
Guignardia ailanthi, and Haplosporella ailanthi. Tent
caterpillars are occasionally a problem in the US, completely defoliating, but
rarely, if ever, killing the trees.
Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Agriculture Handbook 165. 1960. Index of plant diseases in the United States.
- Agriculture Handbook 450. 1974. Seeds of woody plants in the United States.
Forest Service, USDA. USGPO. Washington.
- Duke, J.A. and Atchley, A.A. 1984. Proximate analysis. In: Christie, B.R.
(ed.), The handbook of plant science in agriculture. CRC Press, Inc., Boca
Raton, FL. (in press)
- Duke, J.A. and Wain, K.K. 1981. Medicinal plants of the world. Computer index
with more than 85,000 entries. 3 vols.
- Hartwell, J.L. 19671971. Plants used against cancer. A survey. Lloydia 3034.
- List, P.H. and Horhammer, L. 19691979. Hager's handbuch der pharmazeutischen
praxis. vols 26. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
- Little, E.L. Jr. 1983. Common fuelwood crops: a handbook for their
identification. McClain Printing Co., Parsons, WV.
- Mitchell, J.C. and Rook, A. 1979. Botanical dermatology. Greenglass Ltd.,
- N.A.S. 1980a. Firewood crops. Shrub and tree species for energy production.
National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC.
- Perry, L.M. 1980. Medicinal plants of east and southeast Asia. MIT Press,
Last update December 19, 1997