Dienstag, 11. Oktober 2011

Plant of the Day (October 11th, 2011) - Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle

Today, I'll show you Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle; a tree from the Simaroubaceae family. In English, this plant is known as “Tree of Heaven”, while in German, it's called “Götterbaum” or (rare) “Bitteresche”.

A. altissima - habitus (multi stemmed tree
 that grows from a crack in the wall)

This tree can reach heights between 10 and 30 metres (32.8 and 98.4 feet). The leaves are long (between 0.4 and 3.28 feet) and pinnate. Each leaflet is long-oval too lanceolate with a rough serrated ground.

A. altissima - leave

However, the most distinctive features of the “Tree of Heaven” are the small glands, wich are located at the teeth of the leaflets. This glands secrete sugar water through which the plant attracts ants for pollination

A. altissima - glands (encircled red)

A. altissima has no leaf discolouration. The leaves are falling green.

The species is dioecious, so we've individuals with male or female flowers. Each flower consists of five yellowish green sepals, five yellowish green petals and two circles with five stamens (male) per circle or five carpels (female; some female flowers also have a circle of stamens, but these are sterile). The inflorescences are Thyrses, while the fruits are

A. altissima - treetop

Originally, the natural home of A. altissima China and Vietnam, but during the 18th Century, trees were brought to Europe, Africa and North America as park and garden tree. It's very endurable and tolerant towards air pollution and dryness; so today, you can find the “Tree of Heaven” in many cities, at highways or ruderal wastelands as wild plant. This can also be a problem, because in some regions, A. altissima has become a invasive neophyte.

A. altissima is also the habitat of the caterpillar of the “Ailanthus silkmoth”, so in Asia, this tree is planted for silk production

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