Fast growing Invasive sprouts

Asked June 20, 2019, 7:04 PM EDT

Can you help me identify this plant? It keeps cropping up and I can’t keep up. Is this a variety of sumac? It does not have red stems nor odor. I’ve seen what appears to be the same mature plants nearby 20-40 feet from where the shoots are coming up. When I pull they break off easily at base but no root system comes out. How do I get rid of them?

Baltimore County Maryland

5 Responses

This looks like the fast growing and tremendously invasive plant called Tree of Heaven or Ailanthus. You can tell by the small notches at the leaf base, but the best confirmation (hickory and black walnut look similar) is to crush the leaf in your hand and smell it. They stink like peanut butter.
Here is our page on it:

and another from

It is fast growing and can run underground and make thickets, displacing native flora. It is not easy to get rid of. Cutting it makes it just grow more in leaps and bounds. It is also the host to the newly found invasive spotted lantern fly.
Control information is included in this page from Penn State U:


Thank you. I initially discounted the tree of heaven since the leaves were alternating on the stem instead of directly across from each other like every picture I've seen of that plant. And I didn't notice a smell so thought it could be something else like sumac -- but I will investigate again. I will also look for the gland on the underside of the leaves. I know it's definitely not hickory or walnut, which we have nearby too.

If you look at your first photo, you'll notice that the small leaflets are, by and large, opposite. There are 11-25 of these leaflets on the very long compound leaf. The long compound (ferny looking) leaves are, yes, alternate as they attach to the tree trunk or branch.

The leaf odor will usually not be apparent unless your purposefully crush it, releasing the odor.


So I’m puzzled because I crushed several leaves both from the mature plant and the sprouts and there is no bad odor. I rolled them between my fingers. I broke the stems. Nothing. I also closely inspected the mature leaves and I didn’t see and hard gland on the underside of the leaf. Could it possibly be another plant or are there different varieties of the tree of heaven that don’t smell?

We can confidently rule out look-alikes including sumac, walnut, hickory, and ash. Wisterias have a similar leaf shape but do not get the wavy notch at the base of the leaflet. We feel confident that this is Ailanthus altissima. We have noticed during our outreach days that some people do not detect a foul odor from the leaves. The odor might also be affected by the age of the plant, growing conditions, and genetics. Other identifying characteristics of tree-of-heaven are large, U-shaped leaf scars and continuous brown pith inside the stems. Those are other characteristics that can be used to confirm the ID.