Tree of Heaven – Chinese Sumac – Stink Tree

We bought several of these trees in Golden Valley a couple years ago and they were sold to us as “California Shade trees.”  They were about 2 – 3 ft tall and grew to 6 feet in the first year and to about 8 or 9 ft now.  Last year we bought a couple more.
I had people tell me that they stink.  Since our trees aren’t up wind from the house, I’ve never smelled anything.  Apparently they emit the odor only at certain times.
I didn’t their real name until I saw one at Angela’s blog yesterday and she sent me the link to her post Tree of Heaven with a closeup of a leaf with the nodules that emit the stink.   I checked the leaves on our trees and sure enough, they had those same nodules.  Apparently all our trees are males as I haven’t seen any flowers at all.

6-30-13---lot-my-tress

They sure like water and the more water they have, the faster they grow.  Directly behind the sumac on the right is the little cattail pond with our gray and rain water and it used to flow to the sumac on the left.   We planted the sumac on the right late last summer and it was about 2.5′ tall.   This spring I changed the overflow from the cattails to the sumac on the right and as you can see, it’s as tall as the tree planted a year earlier.

We planted one little sumac a couple years ago in our lower garden and it has not received much water.  However, we now have three sumacs there and since I installed drip irrigation a couple months ago we hope that they will grow fast too.  I’ll try to transplant the two little babies.
9-8-13--Chinese-sumac-lower-garden
We had a great monsoon season this year and more rain than I can remember since I moved here in 2000:
9-8-13--Chinese-sumac-monsoon
They started growing fast in spring, but then the high winds broke several new branches.  Of course they grew right back, but you want to plant them where you won’t risk any damage to buildings or other plants.
71--13--Chinese-sumac
Many people hate these Chinese sumacs with a passion, but they’re the best trees I have found for our climate — in the right place.
They grow fast with lots of water, don’t die if they don’t receive much water, took the cold to 3 F last winter,  lost a few branches in the wind, but thrive like no other tree.
However, they must be planted away from septic systems, pipes and foundations and they are alleopathic similar to walnut trees.  In many areas they are considered an invasive species as they spread through suckers and seeds and are very difficult to eradicate.  Of course that’s NOT a problem in the desert as we just don’t get enough rain for the trees to get established without irrigation.   We had several suckers that unfortunately got eaten by rabbits.  As with reeds and bamboo, there is no possibility that they’ll invade the desert.
I love the lush look and wish they were evergreen as they’re part of our privacy screen.
We planted several other trees and shrubs close to the Chinese sumacs since we didn’t know that they are alleopathic.   Those trees and shrubs didn’t die (yet) but also were not exactly thriving.  That’s probably because they didn’t get much water until we got the monsoon rains in August and now most greened up and are growing too.
They also have medicinal properties and Chinese medicine uses every part of the tree.  A lot more info is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ailanthus_altissima

3 thoughts on “Tree of Heaven – Chinese Sumac – Stink Tree”

  1. Concerned Ecologist

    Please remove these trees, they are horribly invasive and outcompete many native species, thus disrupting the ecosystem. Because they release chemicals into the soil that prevent or hinder the growth of other plants, produce very many seeds, and grow quickly (at the expense of weak wood), you can see how easy it is for them to establish themselves outside of people’s yards. American native plants are totally defenseless to this Asian native’s chemical warfare since they never got the chance to evolve resistance. I know you’re in the desert, but I doubt you’re isolated, and people generally water their lawns. The trees can still spread through the unmaintained borders of other landscapes. I think they’re too dangerous to be worth it, just drive along any vegetated road and it’s almost certain that you’ll see a Chinese sumac, at least where I am. Since you don’t mind watering, there are plenty of other alternatives. If you like the lush look of the pinnate leaves, try native species of walnut or ash or honeylocust or another sumac.
    I can’t believe people are still growing, selling, and buying these demon trees, I thought it was well known how invasive they are…

    1. Didn’t you read my post? We totally agree, they are invasive, fast growing, weak wood — and I LOVE them!
      “I know you’re in the desert, but I doubt you’re isolated, and people generally water their lawns.”
      Yeah, my neighbors just won’t stop watering their lawns … You are hilarious! Sounds like you’ve never been to the desert.
      I know that it’s highly likely that we’ll never be able to remove them all as long as we water. The rabbits love them too, we have to fence the little trees. They are definitely multiplying, but won’t thrive unless they get a lot of water.
      As Marci wrote, they’re spreading in the hills (where it rains more and other trees grow), but there’s no way they’ll survive here.
      Don’t worry, stink trees won’t rule the desert any time soon!

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