Saw another large Ailanthus tree this week. It took me a minute to figure out what seed pods I was seeing. I still can't get used to really large specimens of this tree. I also can't believe people planted this tree on purpose as an ornamental. But it does grow fast! Here's what I saw looking up.
I don't recognize the mature bark yet, either, so I thought for a minute I was seeing an ash. Then I saw a cluster of the seed pods on the ground. That was helpful!
The twisted pods with a single seed in the middle of each is the giveaway. The dots are remnants of the flower. Ailanthus (also known as Tree of Heaven translated from the Indonesian word ailanto) has separate male and female trees, which is known as dioecious. So this is a female tree.
Once you get this image in your head, you'll always recognize the seeds. Only one species, Ailanthus altissima, grows in temperate climates. It's relatively short-lived, but can grow two feet a year, so a 50-foot tree is mature.
Because it's become such a weed tree it's also been nicknamed Tree of Hell. In the 1800s it was used as an ornamental and for urban plantings, but it suckers like crazy and smells terrible. It's almost impossible to eradicate if you have one in your yard. When you mow it, ten more will sprout.
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