I like to call Ailanthus altissima the tree of good or evil. Depending on your perspective, it is either the “ghetto palm,” an invasive pest, or the “tree of heaven,” a tough, hardy street tree once planted for its beauty.
Introduced into the United States from China in 1748, it was being planted as a street tree by the 1820s. Pollution-resistant, salt-tolerant, quick-growing, and with tropical-like foliage, what was not to love about this tree?
Peter Del Tredici, senior research scientist at the Arnold Arboretum, held a tree mob on July 22 on a specimen of this tree (accession #695-80-B). Before eventually turning brown, most ailanthus trees have fruit that go from green to yellow. The tree that Del Tredici collected goes from green to red, hence the form “erythrocarpa,” which means red fruit. Del Tredici described the red on the tree as a spontaneous mutaton that appears sporadically.