Tree of heaven
Tree of heaven, ailanthus (Eng), árbol del cielo, ailanto (Spa), ailant (Cat), ailantoa (Baq), ailanto, árbore do ceo (Glg), ailanto, ailanto-da-China (Por).
DID YOU KNOW...? Although in the botanical description of the species it says: “Tree of heaven, as, because of its height, it seems to launch itself against the sky”, it is actually named for its rapid growth.
Tree reaching 30 m in height, with smooth, greyish bark, whose trunk is reminiscent of an elephant's leg. The leaves are very large, up to almost a metre in length, deciduous, alternate and compound with an odd number of leaflets (uneven pinnate), which give it a feathery appearance. The margin of the leaflets is irregular, often with lobes at the base, and they smell bad when crushed. This is why in some languages it is known as the "foul smelling tree", e.g., malhuele in Spanish. Male and female flowers usually appear on different plants, meaning there are separate male and female trees. The fruits are dry and consist of a seed the size of a lentil surrounded by a long membranous wing (samaras), which aids their dispersal by the wind. When they are ripe they dry out and twist a little.
This species occurs as isolated tress, in stands and even form copses. It becomes established in the wild on roadsides, in wastelands, on boundaries, railway tracks, abandoned fields, dumps, along watercourses and in valley bottoms. It is a very adaptable plant; it can stand pollution and drought and grows on any type of soil, although it suffers heavily in hard frosts. It germinates very easily from seed and also extends by basal shoots, to the point that it can even be seen poking out through cracks in walls and sewer grates. It needs a lot of light and grows from sea level up to 1500 m.
This tree native to Southeast Asia has naturalised in many parts of the world. It is found all across the Iberian Peninsula, sometimes as an ornamental and often established in the wild, in many places becoming an invasive species. It is included in the Atlas of invasive alien plants of Spain.