A fast growing tree from China can grow 20m or more. It has smooth stems with pale grey bark, and twigs which are light chestnut brown, especially in the dormant season. In late spring, clusters of small, yellow-green flowers appear near the tips of branches. Seeds are produced on female trees in late summer to early autumn. Fruits are papery, somewhat twisted, winged structures called samaras that are tan to pink-coloured.
- Common name: Tree-of-hell
- Scientific name: Ailanthus altissima (Simaroubaceae)
- Alternative common names: Hemelboom (Afrikaans)
- Where does this species come from: China
- What is its invasive status in South Africa: CARA 2002 – Category 3 NEMBA – Category 1b
- Where in South Africa is it a problem: Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Free State, KZN, Mpumalanga and Gauteng.
- How does it spread: A prolific seed producer and established trees produce numerous root suckers.
- Why is it a problem: Competes with and has the potential to replace indigenous species.
- What does it look like: General description: A fast growing tree from China which can grow to 20m or more. It has smooth stems with pale grey bark, and twigs which are light chestnut brown, especially in the dormant season. Bark: Grey, smooth or scaly bark. Leaves: Dark green leaves, with yellowish autumn tints that give off an unpleasant odour when crushed. Flowers: Greenish-yellow flowers, in large terminal sprays, from October to November. Fruit/seeds: Papery winged fruit, tan pink-coloured.
- Does the plant have any uses: Grown as an ornamental tree.
- Plant me instead alternatives: Wild plum (Harpephyllum caffrum)