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Invasive Plants and Their native Alternatives: Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

Tree of heaven is a deciduous tree native to northern China, Taiwan, northern Korea, and Tibet. It was introduced to the US in 1784 as an ornamental and naturalized wherever it was planted due its tolerance of difficult growing conditions, high seed production, and ability to sucker and resprout when cut. A very rapidly growing tree, it grows almost anywhere from urban parking lots to wood margins, crowding out native vegetation. In addition to its vigorous growth, its roots damage pavement, and its male flowers have a foul smell like dirty socks, so it is no longer valued in the US as an ornamental. It is considered invasive from Maine to Michigan, Nebraska, and Oregon, south to Florida and California. USDA Hardiness zones 4-8

The following natives are recommended as alternatives:

Big-Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum)
Native to lowlands, upland forests, and floodplains from Alaska south to California, this deciduous tree grows 80’ tall, has yellow autumn color, and a wide dense crown of large leaves that provides good shade. USDA Hardiness zones 6-8

Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis)
The fragrant spring blooming flowers of this deciduous shrub or small tree growing up to 30’ tall make it a pleasant addition to a spring garden where it will also contribute red- orange foliage color in the fall. It is native to eastern US from Nova Scotia and Ontario, south to Georgia and Iowa. USDA Hardiness zones 4-8

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)
Widely cultivated for its nuts, the pecan is a large tree growing up to 90’. It has pinnately divided leaves with nine to eleven leaflets that turn yellow in fall. It is native to floodplains, bottomlands, and open woods from Indiana to Iowa, south to Louisiana, Texas and Mexico. USDA Hardiness zones 5-10
Red Bud (Cercis canadensis)
Rosy purple flowers in dense axillary cluster appear in spring before the large heart-shaped leaves. In fall the leaves turn yellow and in winter the zigzag branching pattern provides interest. This shrub to small tree is native to open woodlands, woodland edges, meadows, and roadsides from Pennsylvania and Nebraska, south to Florida and Texas. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8

Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea)
A medium to large tree with rounded to spreading form yellowwood has drooping clusters of white flowers in late spring and leaves that turn yellow in fall. It is native to open woods, bottomlands, and bluffs in scattered sites from Kentucky and North Carolina, west to Missouri and Arkansas. USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8
Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
Persimmon is a shrubby deciduous tree that grows up to 60’ tall and is native from Connecticut to Kansas, south to Florida and Texas. It has edible fruit and distinctive bark that provides winter interest. USDA Hardiness zones 4-9

Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)
Kentucky coffeetree is a deciduous tree growing 80-100’ tall and has very large tripinnate leaves, insignificant flowers, and large mahogany-colored seedpods that can be a litter problem along with the leaves in the fall. It is native to woodlands, floodplains, old fields, and clearings from New York to Minnesota, south to Virginia, South Dakota, and Oklahoma but has naturalized elsewhere. USDA Hardiness zones 4-8

Jamaica Dogwood aka Florida Fishpoison Tree(Piscidia piscipula)
Native to coastal zones of southern Florida, Jamaica dogwood is a deciduous tree growing 45’ tall and bearing clusters of attractive white flowers tinged with pink or red in spring. USDA Hardiness zones 9-11

Although there are many native oaks the following species deserve special mention:

Oaks (Quercus spp)
Although there are many native oaks the following species deserve special mention:
Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)
Growing up to 80’ tall, swamp white oak is a deciduous tree native to moist areas in bottomlands and lowland such as riparian soils and the edges of swamps from Massachusetts to Wisconsin, south to Virginia and Missouri. Its foliage turns yellow in fall and its acorns provide food for wildlife. It is relatively easy to transplant. USDA Hardiness zones 3-8

Blue Oak (Quercus douglasii)
A tall tree to over sixty feet, blue oak is deciduous with dark green leaves tinted with blue and is the most drought tolerant of the deciduous oaks. It is endemic to California where it is found in the Coast Ranges and foothills of the Sierra Nevada. USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10

Engelmann Oak (Quercus engelmannii)
This rare deciduous to evergreen tree is native to the open woods and chaparral in the foothills of Southern California and northern Baha California. It grows up to sixty feet tall and has an upright to rounded crown. The trees are rare are valued for their handsome foliage and the shade they can provide. USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10

Interior Live Oak (Quercus wislizeni)
Interior live oak is an evergreen shrub or tree with dark green leaves. It is native to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and Pacific Coast Ranges of California where it grows in interior canyons, slopes, valleys, chaparral, pine and oak woodlands. USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10

Virginia Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
This very large mounding tree has a picturesque appearance with its broadly oval to rounded crown of dark green evergreen leaves. It is native to woodland edges, clearings, and shores from coastal regions of Virginia, south to Florida and west to Texas and Mexico. Hardiness USDA zone 8-10

Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra)
Smooth sumac is a deciduous shrubs producing dense clusters of red seed pods and red foliage in the fall. It grows 8-20′ tall and is native to prairies, fields, abandon farmland, and clearings of Ontario west to Manitoba, south to Georgia and Texas; USDA Hardiness zones 3-9.

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
Known for its velvety reddish branchlets, handsome red fruit clusters, and vibrant red fall coloration, staghorn sumac is a deciduous large shrub or small tree growing to 25’ tall. It is native to woodland edges, riparian soils, and disturbed sites from Quebec to Ontario to Minnesota south to Georgia, Indiana, and Iowa. USDA Hardiness zones 3-8

Sitka Mountain Ash (Sorbus sitchensis)
Growing in rocky soil, open woods, and bog margins at mostly subalpine elevations, Sitka mountain ash is native from southwest Alaska to the mountains of Washington, Oregon, and northern California and east to parts of Idaho and northwestern Montana. It is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 20’ tall, and has clusters of white flowers in late spring and bitter orange-red berries in fall that are attractive to birds and small mammals. USDA Hardiness zones 3-6