Controlling Tree of Heaven: Why it Matters
Tree-of-heaven is an invasive tree species found in much of the United States. The spotted lanternfly, a non-native, invasive, and destructive insect new to the United States, prefers tree-of-heaven as a food source. Find out how we can use one to help stop the other and reduce the populations of both invasive species in the process.
- Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima, commonly referred to as simply ailanthus, is an invasive, pervasive and problematic tree.
First introduced into the Philadelphia area from Asia in the late 1700s, it has since spread across much of the United States.
People who are familiar with tree of heaven say it is misnamed.
It grows quickly into a large tree with weak wood.
Tree of heaven vigorously reproduces by seeds and root suckers.
Root suckers may extend up to 50 feet away from the parent tree, as shown in this photo.
And tree of heaven is allelopathic, which means it produces a toxin that inhibits the growth of other plants.
Tree of heaven can quickly overwhelm roadsides, fields, and natural areas, crowding out native plants, leading to a decline in native plant species diversity.
Tree of heaven can also inhibit forest regeneration, and slow or stop natural succession.
Except for the Ailanthus Webworm, native insects will not feed on tree of heaven.
This is a problem for wildlife, because insects form the base of the food chain.
In fact, 95% of all terrestrial bird species raise their young by feeding them insects.
When tree of heaven takes over areas, wildlife habitat is degraded.
Foresters and green industry workers have been fighting this invasive tree for decades.
But now, we have an even more urgent reason to control them.
Tree of heaven is a preferred host plant for spotted lanternfly, a highly destructive, invasive insect, accidentally introduced from Asia.
The spotted lanternfly was first documented in Berks County, Pennsylvania in 2014, and has now spread across most of southeastern PA.
These nasty invaders prefer tree of heaven, but they have been observed feeding on more than 70 species of plants and trees.
Spotted lanternfly presents a significant threat to agriculture, including the grape, tree fruit, hardwood, and nursery industries, which collectively are worth nearly 18 billion dollars to Pennsylvania's economy.
Tree of heaven is abundant in southeastern Pennsylvania, where spotted lanternfly is found.
The prevalence and pervasiveness of tree of heaven provides a readily available food source for the spotted lanternfly, allowing them to multiply and expand their range.
Both tree of heaven and spotted lanternfly are aggressive, invasive species.
The good news is that we can use one to help control the other and reduce the populations of both in the process.
Because spotted lanternfly is drawn to the tree of heaven, we can use the tree to attract and then kill these invasive insects.
This is known as the trap tree method.
For the trap tree method to work, we must first kill most of the existing tree of heaven, leaving just a few to be the trap trees.
Trap trees are shown here, marked in red.
Because native insects and other animals do not feed on tree of heaven, eliminating this tree will not harm the environment.
In fact, just the opposite.
Eliminating tree of heaven on your property can help native plants and animals thrive.
However, killing tree of heaven is challenging.
Simply cutting the tree down causes it to send up vigorous stump and root sprouts, as you can see in this photo.
So what can you do to control these trees?
Penn State Extension has developed methods to effectively manage tree of heaven.
For the latest information, visit the Penn State Extension website.
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