Tree Of Heaven

The Tree of Heaven or Ailanthus Altissima is a voraciously hardy and fast growing tree that I have been observing over the past 5 years. It originates from China where almost every part of it is used for medicinal reasons. In urban areas of the west it has a very differentoutlook. It grows so quickly and in such harsh environments that it has the nick name of The Ghetto Palm in New York. I have seen it growing in cracks, out of sheer rock, on buildings and on roadsin the same way Buddleia manifests itself. It is a survivor. It has adapted to the inner city to the point where, at times it appears to be reclaiming land back.

YouTube is full of Tree of Heaven nightmares.

My relationship with this tree is complex. On the one hand I admire it for its awareness of it’s human urban surroundings and can grow in response to this, almost competing with concrete. On the other I have seen it eating land up invasively and threatening indigenous plants. It uses Allelopathy to weaken alien growth around it. It sends out 30/40 shoots through its roots if cut down. The female sends Samara Wing seeds on the wind up to 300m away.

Areas where I have witnessed it’s ecology are New York, London, Detroit (the famous disused Packard factory is full of them), Corfu, and Northern Italy. In Detroit they are so over run with these trees that ‘The Detroit Tree of Heaven Workshop’ was created by a group of artists to make use of this profuse local material. The artist Ingo Vetter is one artist I have found who knows this tree well, although he did tell me that the tree seems to grow anywhere, when you actually try to grow it, it can be quite tricky and sensitive. This has added to my fascination with it.

This is an ongoing interest. I would like to create vessels of 2m high in a variety of materials, acrylic, clay, metal etc and grow the trees inside them, observing root development and growth. I want to torture them, to bonsai them, to see how they will respond over time. To know them.