Tree-of-heaven - sounds benign doesn't it? And yet it is a huge threat to native plants and animals and to the income of anyone who has a woodland they intend to harvest some day. It is detrimental to wildlife, to neighboring trees and is taking up space on our properties whether in or outside of a woodland.
Right now is prime time to get a fix on this tree if you are not familiar with it. Observe on your next drive down the street or highway - there is a greater likelihood of seeing it than not.
Right now, the female trees have large clusters of seeds, ranging from pale green (immature) to deep orange to brown (mature and ready to make that many new trees!). Male trees successfully blend in with other trees until you start noticing the long compound leaves.
Beginning in just a few weeks and continuing throughout the winter, these seeds will be released by the tree during a good wind and the march of tree-of-heaven across the landscape will continue. One reason this species is so successful is that it doesn't just rely on the hundreds of thousands of seeds one tree can produce it also spreads vegetatively.
You might have noticed one in your woodland last year but there may be twenty trunks this year. Root-sprouts can form large patches which do not allow the growth of the native plants that once occupied the spot. Cut them and they will grow as tall as those you just cut in just a few weeks but now there may be thirty stems.
It is not just competition for space above ground but a chemical battle below ground with tree-of-heaven roots exuding chemicals that inhibit the germination or growth of other species - the natives upon whom wildlife depends.
Most Non-Native Invasive Species (NNIS) are opportunistic and aggressive and tree-of-heaven is certainly no exception. If you have noticed fewer birds, butterflies and other native wildlife around your land, it could be because tree-of-heaven is present.
One whiff of its foliage and you will agree that it would take a desperate herbivore, whether caterpillar or mammal, to munch on it. The nutritional value is unlikely to be anywhere close to what is required for native wildlife to survive, let alone to reproduce.
Birds avoid the seeds but remember tree-of-heaven (could substitute the name of any NNIS) is replacing the native seed-bearing plants upon which our native wildlife depend.
On Wednesday, Sept. 14, two workshops will be held at Lookout Park in Marietta. From 2 to 4 p.m. and again at 6 to 8 p.m. tree-of-heaven/ Ailanthus/stink tree will be discussed.
How to identify this species. How to distinguish from sumac. Why is it important for landowners who want to restore their woodland whether for wildlife (to observe or to hunt) or to grow marketable timber to take action if it is growing on their land? Why no one would want this species anywhere on their property. Alarming mapped information showing the large number of clusters of this tree currently present gained from over-flights of a part of eastern Washington County will be shared. Funding opportunities to control Ailanthus will be discussed as well as information about a possible natural control - if we can find it in our state.
The workshop is free and is sponsored by Friends of Lower Muskingum River, Wayne National Forest, Ohio Division of Forestry and Ohio Invasive Plants Council.
Please register at www.oipc.info or call 373-3372 so there will be sufficient handouts.
The workshop will be especially helpful for landowners, land-managers and decision-makers - whether a quarter acre or hundreds of acres. Hope to see you there.
Marilyn Ortt of 701 Colegate Drive, Marietta, is a member of the Marietta City Tree Commission. Our Earth appears on alternate weeks in the weekend edition.