Monday, February 16, 2009

A tree easy to dislike

The Latin name is ailanthus altissima. It's also known as the "tree of heaven." Some call it "Chinese sumac." I prefer a name I found on the Internet -- the "stink tree."

Sumac can be enticing in the fall with it's bright red leaves, but don't let that fool you. The sumac is essentially a weed on steroids. Growing 5 to 8 feet a year, the sumac will take over an open space and then send out runners which sprout into new trees. I have sumac trees over 50-feet tall (see large photo). They have a shallow root system which makes them prone to toppling in a high wind.

There are over 250 varieties of sumac. The kind we have in East Tennessee is the smooth bark variety. Older sumacs have giant pimples which are absolutely grotesque (small photo). I'm told any time the bark is damaged, a pustule will form. Just what we need, a tree with acne.

You almost have to hold your nose when you cut a sumac. The smell is sickening with younger trees giving off the raunchiest smell.

In some parts of the world, even in the U.S., sumacs are actually cultivated and sold in garden centers, which only proves that some people will buy anything.

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