Provided by BOCS Chair Ann Wheeler’s Office
The Plant Nova Natives/Plant NovaTrees is asking for your help in ridding the area of the invasive Ailanthus altissima, commonly called Tree-of-Heaven, and the Spotted Lanternfly that uses it as a larval host. Both are threats to native flora and fauna.
Ailanthus, imported from China in the late 1700s and 1800s, can now be seen everywhere along local highways and byways. Its large, dramatic clusters of seeds look like giant flowers. It spreads aggressively, grows to maturity rapidly with a very long taproot, and has a terrible odor. It poisons the ground around it with chemicals and crowds out native oaks, beeches, hickories, and maples. It also fails to provide the critical food resources that native insects and other animals need to live and reproduce in a fully functioning, healthy ecosystem.
Tree-of-Heaven is the preferred food source for the SLF, a destructive pest that is spreading in Northern Virginia and a major threat to some of Virginia’s agricultural areas, especially vineyards, peach orchards, hops, and native tree species like oaks and maples. You can learn more about the SLF and how to mitigate it from the PWC Public Works and Virginia Cooperative Extension.
How can we stop the spread of this invasive plant?
The first thing, of course, is not to purchase it in the first place! So be sure to learn how to identify it. You can become familiar with the iNaturalist app on your smartphone or use other online resources to name the plant. The second is to remove the tree if it is growing on your land. Pesky Ailanthus, however, thrives when simply cut down, so strategies must be used to kill the root system right away, preferably before cutting it. Blue Ridge PRISM has excellent fact sheets with details about herbicide use for this and other invasive species.