Ailanthus (Ailanthus altissima)

Common Name(s): Ailanthus, tree of heaven, Chinese sumac

Scientific Name: Ailanthus altissima

Distribution: Native to China; widely naturalized worldwide

Tree Size: 65-100 ft (20-30 m) tall,

                      2-3 ft (.6-1 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 37.1 lbs/ft3 (600  kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .44, .60

Janka Hardness: 1,420 lbf (6,300 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 11,060 lbf/in2 (76.2 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 1,623,000 lbf/in2 (11,19 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 6,680 lbf/in2 (46.1 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 6.1%, Tangential: 10.8%,

                        Volumetric: 17.1%, T/R Ratio: 1.8

Color/Appearance: Ranges from a pale yellow to light brown, sometimes with brighter yellowish or olive-hued streaks. Overall appearance is similar to ash.

Grain/Texture: Has an open, porous texture and a moderate natural luster.

Rot Resistance: No data available; reported to have good insect resistance.

Workability: Easy to work with hand and machine tools. Turns, glues, stains, and finishes well.

Odor: No characteristic odor.

Allergies/Toxicity: Ailanthus has been reported to cause skin irritation. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: No data available.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In many locations it’s considered to be an invasive or pest species.

Common Uses: Cabinetry, turned objects, and paper (pulpwood).

Comments: Once viewed as an honored ornamental tree in China, resulting in it becoming widely naturalized throughout much of the world during the 19th century. Today, ailanthus’ quick growth and hardiness have proved to be overwhelming for many ecosystems, and it is widely viewed as an invasive species.

The tree is commonly called tree of heaven—from the Ambonese word aylanto (rendered ailanthus in Latin). The name is in reference to the great heights of the tree (helped by a very robust grow rate). One Ailanthus species native to Melasia, Ailanthus integrifolia, can reach heights up to 200 feet (60 meters) and may be the original source for the common name, aylanto—tree of heaven.

Images: Drag the slider up/down to toggle between raw and finished wood. A special thanks to Adam Cottrill for providing the turned photo of this wood species.

Ailanthus turned (Adam Cottrill)

Identification: See the article on Hardwood Anatomy for definitions of endgrain features.

Ailanthus (endgrain 10x)
Ailanthus (endgrain 1x)

Porosity: ring porous

Arrangement: earlywood in single broken row, latewood in diagonal/tangential arrangement

Vessels: very large earlywood pores, small to medium latewood pores

Parenchyma: vasicentric, winged, and confluent in latewood

Rays: medium to wide; wide spacing

Lookalikes/Substitutes: Can be confused with species of ash (Fraxinus genus) as well as sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Both of these lookalikes can be distinguished from ailanthus by the ray width. Ailanthus has wider rays that are generally visible even without magnification, while the others have narrower rays that can’t be seen clearly without magnification.

Another less common wood that bears an even closer resemblance to ailanthus is hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). Hackberry’s lighter colored sapwood (excluding its darker heartwood) matches in both appearance and anatomy. However, hackberry’s earlywood pores are in rows at least two to three pores wide, while ailanthus tends to have its earlywood pores in a row more or less only one pore wide.

Notes: None.

> Hardwoods > Simaroubaceae > Ailanthus > Related Species

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John

This tree may be considered to be invasive but the wood itself is quite beautiful and tends to have a nice straight figure since the trees grow straight 99% of the time.

I’ve harvested one of these trees in the past and debarked it and the sap had no ill effects on me. Working the wood had no ill effects on me as well. It’s quite a nice wood to work with in my opinion.

Alex Smith

i agree i work in a wood shop and its a very nice wood to work with.

Mark

SomeLumberjack, I hate to tell you but these trees are very difficult to eradicate. They propagate largely through their extensive root system. If you cut one down, more will pop up in its stead. Another highly invasive tree from Asia, Paper Mullberry, is similar and can quickly colonize an area. I know because they have invaded my property in Southern NJ. I grew up in Phila and the Ailanthus grew everywhere. We used to call them dump trees.

SomeLumberjack

This tree is very invasive. They support spotted lantern flies, too. I believe that if we cut all of them down, we can avoid the flies from getting past Philadelphia.

GreenWarrior

Well, I for one am extremely allergic to the wood. Rashes over my whole body with black scabs under the skin. That was from brief exposure to the sap or juices of the wood when I broke a branch. Not fun… Plus it is toxic to cattle and horses, I’ve heard. but perhaps that’s just the foliage. It’s also a tree that supports many destructive invasive Asian insects and is extremely invasive itself especially along highways and in cities. Plus, when freshly broken it smells very strongly like a skunk. I’m surprised that isn’t mentioned here… That’s the most obvious… Read more »

Mark

I read of cases where workers who were cutting down these tree ended up with myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) from exposure to the sap. I will say one thing, these trees smell horrible is you crush the leaves. One of the most awful odors ever.