In a recent Capital News Service article, Cecelia Shilling focused on what she called a “worrisome invasive species,” the tree of heaven. This deciduous tree kills native plants, threatens habitats, and damages infrastructure. It also provides a home and food for the spotted lanternfly, another pesky invader and enemy of plants and fruit crops. But, how much of a problem is the tree of heaven on this side of the Bay Bridge?
A native of the Far East, the tree was brought to Pennsylvania in the 1700s because it was fast growing. But it was so fast growing that, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, it went on to set up camp in at least 30 states, including Maryland. Identifiable by its strange odor and large, compound leaves that resemble feathers, it injects harmful chemicals into the soil, killing other plants. According to the Purdue Landscape Report, it can disrupt sidewalks and building foundations.
However, the tree of heaven is just one of many invasive plants the Eastern Shore contends with. Others like phragmites, Johnson grass, the Canada thistle, English ivy, privet, and nandina are bigger problems.
“I’m not a horticulturalist or plant biology expert,” said ShoreRivers Director of Community Engagement Darran White Tilghman, “but I would say the tree of heaven is not the greatest threat we have. It doesn’t make the Maryland Department of Agriculture list of invasives.”
In fact, Larry Hemming of Eastern Shore Nurseries in Easton hasn’t really seen any trees of heaven in the area. “It’s not a big problem around here—yet.”
Still, it’s best to deal with the ones you do find. Mikaela Boley and Christa Carignan at University of Maryland Extension suggest chopping into the tree of heaven’s bark and applying tree-rated herbicide, which will kill the root system and prevent expansion.
It is difficult to eradicate an invasive species, though. That’s why Tilghman promotes the introduction of native plant species, which have deeper and more resilient root systems. “Native plants are the best technology we have to soak up nutrients from water before it leaves the land and to hold soil in place.”