The tree in the backyard on the property line between us and our neighbor towers over all the others and has some serious girth to it. It looks kind of like a locust but not quite a locust. All summer long it drops sticks and long racimes, which leave an unsightly black substance on the patio after it rains. It smells funky. It does not give a deep or satisfying shade. In autumn it drops copious amounts of tiny leaves all over the garden and yard that are not pretty. Significant Other (hereafter know as “SO”) calls it a “garbage tree”. The only thing useful about it is that the high garden fence is secured to it, so that when the snowplow swings around the driveway in the winter and taps it, the fence will hopefully stay put.
This year we got together with the neighbor and split the cost of having the garbage tree taken down. It was really exciting to come home from work and find it gone. I love trees, but I had no remorse about this one. They left up enough trunk to serve as part of the fence post, but the rest was removed. So much more light came through for the garden and the house, and no more junk would be coming down on our heads.
However, a mere few days after it was cut, a peculiar thing occurred. The tree started to sprout new leaves and the beginning of limbs along the remaining trunk. This was immediate, and because it was so rapid, it was sort of impressive. But then all these baby trees started sprouting all over the garden and all over our neighbor’s lawn. Hundreds of them. Not only were they sprouting, they were growing at an alarmingly swift rate. Like within five days they would be a foot tall. They grew right up alongside and crowded out my flowers. As fast as I would pull them up, the next day more would be back. As fast as the neighbor would mow them down from her lawn, they would return. It seemed like the original tree, in an effort to survive, instantly sent out all these runners to make new trees. When you pull them up, they emit this weird, weedy smell that is similar to raw peanuts but unpleasant. Every morning I would take a few moments to pull up the latest new plants. They just kept multiplying and it began to seem surreal, like the Hydra, the mythical snake where you cut off the head and more pop out. I have discovered it is called a Tree of Heaven, or Ailanthus altissima, a tree native to China that was imported during the 1700’s and quickly turned into an invasive species. Aside from the direction it grows, there is nothing heavenly about it.
Per the suggestions found on cooperative extension and invasive species sites, SO drilled some holes in the trunk and injected some herbicide into it. Numerous times. Didn’t work. Next came spraying the little plants that kept popping up with herbicide. That helped a little. I am not into having poison all over my yard though. I kept pulling them up when I would spot one. In the meantime, they have spread from the very back of the yard and started showing up in the front.
It is winter now and the Hydra, as I tend to call it, is dormant. In the spring we will see if it resumes its quest of survival. If anyone has any experience with this and suggestions, please share!