Photo taken in Mainz, Germany by Jo Spittler
A lively discussion about Ailanthus altissima broke out in response to my last post about Marko finding a plant busting through the pavement. Observant reader Jo Spittler suggested that the “breakthrough” tree might be an Ailanthus, also known under such poetic names as tree of heaven and ghetto palm. It’s famous for sprouting up in places uninhabitable to most other plants, such as crumbling buildings and paved lots. Indeed, it serves as the central metaphor of the classic book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, as a symbol for flourishing in adverse conditions.
Of course, the tree of heaven’s toughness means that it is also very difficult to remove once it has taken root, leading some gardeners to call it “tree of hell.” Jo sent us this photo of the Ailanthus by her woodpile, writing “The thick stems to the left and center of the photograph are its stems. It seems to have been cut off in the past by the former owner of the house. Unfortunately we are going to have to take it out because it is right by the outside wall and rather a danger to the structure… They speed they grow at amazes me!”
Here are some Ailanthus photos from my archives. I spotted these in Berlin last fall:
Behind a Biergarten on Oranienburger Str, Mitte
In a phone booth on Warschauer Straße, Friedrichshain
On Linienstraße in Mitte
In the same lot on Linienstraße.
I highly recommend the Wikipedia article on the tree of heaven, which is full of intriguing facts. It was recognized by Wikipedia as a featured article, a honor given to less than 0.1% of the articles, which just shows how interesting this tree is. My favorite part is about the Ailanthus at the Noguchi Museum in Queens, which the sculptor Noguchi preserved when building the museum. Last year, the tree was ailing and had to be removed, but it was preserved by the artists of the Detroit Tree of Heaven Woodshop in the form of benches and other elements around the museum.
Anyone else have a story about their neighborhood Ailanthus?