When does this bloom?
June, July-Oct (berry)
Where does this bloom?
382, common along roadside in Virginia.
The Tree of Heaven, (Ailanthus altissima) is a medium-sized tree that reaches heights between 17 and 27 metres (56 and 90 ft) with a diameter at breast height of about 1 metre (40 in). The bark is smooth and light grey, often becoming somewhat rougher with light tan fissures as the tree ages. The twigs are stout, smooth to lightly pubescent, and reddish or chestnut in color. They have lenticels as well as heart-shaped leaf scars (i.e. a scar left on the twig after a leaf falls) with many bundle scars (i.e. small marks where the veins of the leaf once connected to the tree) around the edges.
The buds are finely pubescent, dome shaped, and partially hidden behind the petiole, though they are completely visible in the dormant season at the sinuses of the leaf scars. The branches are light to dark gray in color, smooth, lustrous, and containing raised lenticels that become fissures with age. The ends of the branches become pendulous. All parts of the plant have a distinguishing strong odour that is often likened to rotting peanuts or cashews.
The leaves are large, odd- or even-pinnately compound, and arranged alternately on the stem. They range in size from 30 to 90 cm (1 to 3 ft) in length and contain 10-41 leaflets organised in pairs, with the largest leaves found on vigorous young sprouts. The rachis is light to reddish-green with a swollen base. The leaflets are ovate-lanceolate with entire margins, somewhat asymmetric and occasionally not directly opposite to each others.
Each leaflet is 5 to 18 cm (2 to 7 in) long and 2.5 to 5 cm (1 to 2 in) wide. They have a long tapering end while the bases have two to four teeth, each containing one or more glands at the tip. The leaflets’ upper sides are dark green in color with light green veins, while the undersides are a more whitish green. The petioles are 5 to 12 mm (0.2 to 0.5 in) long. The lobed bases and glands distinguish it from similar sumac species.
The flowers are small and appear in large panicles up to 50 cm (20 in) in length at the end of new shoots. The individual flowers are yellowish green to reddish in color, each with five petals and sepals. The sepals are cup-shaped, lobed and united while the petals are valvate (i.e. they meet at the edges without overlapping), white and hairy towards the inside. They appear from mid-April in the south of its range to July in the north.
A. altissima is dioecious, with male and female flowers being born on different individuals. Male trees produce three to four times as many flowers as the females, making the male flowers more conspicuous. Furthermore, the male plants emit a foul-smelling odor while flowering to attract pollinating insects. Female flowers contain ten (or rarely five through abortion) sterile stamens (stamenoides) with heart-shaped anthers. The pistil is made up of five free carpels (i.e. they are not fused), each containing a single ovule. Their styles are united and slender with star-shaped stigmas. The male flowers are similar in appearance, but they of course lack a pistil and the stamens do function, each being topped with a globular anther and a glandular green disc.
The seeds born on the female trees are 5 mm in diameter and each is encapsulated in a samara that is 2.5 cm long (1 in) and 1 cm (0.4 in) broad, appearing July though August, but usually persisting on the tree until the next spring. The samara is twisted at the tips, making it spin as it falls and assisting wind dispersal. The females can produce huge amounts of seeds, normally around 30,000 per kilogram (14,000/lb) of tree.
In addition to its use as an ornamental plant, the tree of heaven is also used for its wood, medicinal properties, and as a host plant to feed silkworms of the moth Samia cynthia, which produces silk that is stronger and cheaper than mulberry silk, although with inferior gloss and texture. It is also unable to take dye. This type of silk is known as “pongee” or “Shantung silk”, the second name being derived from Shandong Province in China where this silk is often produced. Its production is particularly well known in the Yantai region of that province. The moth has also been introduced in the United States.
The pale yellow, close-grained and satiny wood of ailanthus has been used in cabinet work. It is flexible and well suited to the manufacture of kitchen steamers, which are important in Chinese cuisine for cooking mantou, pastries and rice. Zhejiang Province in eastern China is most famous for producing these steamers. It is also considered a good source of firewood across much of its range as it moderately hard and heavy, yet readily available. There are problems with using the wood as lumber, however. Because the trees exhibit rapid growth for the first few years, the trunk has uneven texture between the inner and outer wood, which can cause the wood to twist or crack during drying. Techniques have been developed for drying the wood so as to prevent this cracking, allowing it to be commercially harvested. Although the live tree tends to have very flexible wood, the wood is quite hard once properly dried