Ailanthus altissima

Common Names: Tree of heaven, ailanthus, chouchun
Category: Trees
Sub-category: Simaroubaceae

An invasive in Connecticut, it is native to both northeast and central China and Taiwan. The tree grows rapidly and is capable of reaching heights of 15 meters in 25 years. However, the species is also short lived and rarely lives more than 50 years. It is considered an invasive species in many areas. It also is commonly mistaken for staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) as the leaves look very similar. A medium-sized tree that reaches heights between 56 and 90 feet. The bark is smooth and light grey, often becoming somewhat rougher with light tan fissures as the tree ages. All parts of the plant have a distinguishing strong odor that is often likened to peanuts or rotting 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 in length and contain 10 to 41 leaflets organised in pairs, with the largest leaves found on vigorous young sprouts. 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 long and 2.5 to 5 cm wide. The flowers are small and appear in large panicles up to 20 inches in length at the end of new shoots.

The tree prefers moist and loamy soils, but is adaptable to a very wide range of soil conditions and pH values. It is drought-hardy, but not tolerant of flooding. It also does not tolerate deep shade.

Edible Notes: Not known to be edible, however it has a long history of use in Chinese traditional medicine.
Warnings: Anecdotal evidence suggests that the plant may be mildly toxic. The noxious odors have been associated with nausea and headaches, as well as with contact dermatitis reported in both humans and sheep, who also developed weakness and paralysis. It contains a quinone irritant, 2,6-dimethoxybenzoquinone, as well as active quassinoids (ailanthone itself being one) which may account for these effects, but they have, however, proved difficult or impossible to reproduce in humans and goats. In one trial a tincture from the blossom and foliage caused nausea, vomiting and muscular relaxation. (Source: Wikipedia)