Northeast L.A. renews campaign to uproot Tree of Heaven

Photo courtesy Jerry Schneider

They can be seen everywhere, their thin trunks and long leaves sprouting between cracks in parking lots, rising above vacant lots and climbing steep hillsides.  The  sturdy and fast-growing “Tree of Heaven” – a Chinese sumac featured in the novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” –  is nearly unstoppable once it sets down roots, crowding out and engulfing native trees.  In fact sometimes digging out or cutting down A Tree of Heaven during annual brush clearance stimulates more growth. That’s why the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council recently approved spending $950 to support a Tree-of-Heaven eradication program at Debs Park in Montecito Heights and Elyria Canyon and other parks in Mount Washington.  Using spot treatments of herbicides, workers will target clumps in neighborhood parks and public rights-of-way, said  neighborhood council member Jerry Schneider.

“Spirited volunteers, and the public agencies, have been fighting this plant for many years,” Schneider said by email. “Once you know what this pest plant looks like, you will see it invading many public and private spaces. ”

Other groups, ranging from Mount Washington homeowners associations and the Audubon Center at Debs Park, are also engaged in the battle against the Tree of Heaven.  Click on the link below to read a Q&A with Schneider as he provides more details on the tree removal campaign.

Q: Why are these trees such a nuisance?
A: Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is an invasive pest plant species listed as a high priority by the California Invasive Pest Plant Council and the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council. In our open space parks, Tree of Heaven forms dense colonies that take over and exclude native habitat plants. On private lands, mature trees become parents of other plants as there wind blown seeds are carried on to other properties. When individual trees are cut down and the roots are not treated, the plant sends up a multitude of sprouts from remaining roots. Sprouts form dense colonies and cutting back as done in annual brush clearance only exacerbates the problem as the roots continue to send up more sprouts. Seedlings and sprouts find there way into crevices in paving, creating problems in patios, driveways and near building foundations.

Q: Where are these trees a problem?
A: Once you know what this pest plant looks like, you will see it invading many public and private spaces. It is quite pervasive and you can find it in quite a few locations. I have seen it in Hermon along the Arroyo Seco channel, along Monterey Road on several vacant lots, hillsides, and coming up in between the sidewalk and bulkhead in the Monterey Pass. It is also present in a few private gardens.

Q: When will the abatement begin?
A: I take it this refers to the abatement efforts approved for funding by the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council at its Board meeting on August 26, 2011. This is a continuation of a focused chemical treatment program to chemically treat Tree of Heaven in public parks and rights of way within the ASNC boundaries. Treatments will resume in parks that were treated last year, Elyria Canyon Park in Mount Washington and Debs Park. Also, plans will be presented to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority for starting abatement in two other parks administered by the MRCA in Mount Washington, Rainbow Canyon and Stahr Pocket parks. The treatments will begin as soon as the programs are authorized by MRCA, and hopefully before the plants go into winter dormancy.

Photo by Derek Markham/Flickr

Q: Have these plants been removed before?
Ans. Yes, spirited volunteers, and the public agencies, have been fighting this plant for many years. Last year, ASNC authorized funding and abatement took place in Debs Park and Elyria Canyon parks. In Debs Park, the Audubon Center at Debs Park is taking on the lead to coordinate the program. The Forestry Division of the City of LA Recreation and Parks has a limited budget but is participating in the Debs Park efforts where the licensed herbicide applicator is a part-time employee of Recreation and Parks Department. Last year we worked with Audubon and Recreation and Parks staffs to get the program into a coordinated and documented effort. In Elyria Canyon Park, the effort was co funded by the Greater Cypress Park Neighborhood Council who shares the park with ASNC in as a public park within common boundaries. Not all funding approved last fiscal year was utilized due to dormancy of the plants and deadlines set to expend the fund with before closing the books for the fiscal year.

Q. Will $950 take care of most of the problem or is there a lot more to be done?
A:  No. The funds approved by the ASNC this fiscal year are part of a continuing and phased program. And, Yes, there is a lot more to be done. About one half of the funding will be allocated to Elyria Canyon and the other parks administered by the MRCA in Mount Washington. We are asking for co funding from GCPNC again to double the funding for Elyria Canyon Park. In Debs Park, our funds will be partnered with the Recreation and Parks funding and we will be asking the other NC’s that share this regional park to contribute also.

In Mount Washington, the Beautification Committees of the MW Homeowners Alliance and MW Association have started an effort to encourage and coordinate an abatement program on privately owned properties. The services of the same licensed herbicide applicator are being coordinated, and a reduced group rate is being offered. More than a dozen private properties have participated to date, including a very large landowner the Self Realization Fellowship Church. This companion program saves these property owners expenses in future brush clearing or other abatement efforts, and at the same time removes parent plants that may infect nearby public lands.


  1. Glad to hear it. These trees have no wildlife value, and we should be planting more native trees where possible. I’d love to see more oaks and sycamores in NELA!

  2. The hellish “tree of heaven” couldn’t be better named. Kill ’em all. Let god sort ’em out.

  3. Be careful where you plant an oak or sycamore; they’re protected trees, so once they start growing the rules are very strict (at least in Glendale) regarding cutting or trimming them; my understanding is that you need a permit to trim any branch of more than three inches’ diameter. Interested in building a room addition or another unit on your property? If your structure is within six feet of the oak’s dripline, forget about it.

  4. There is a clump of these behind our shop between fences separating our commercial property and a small house. They/it are tearing up the pavement and spreading down the block. A nuisance if I’ve ever seen one.

  5. I thought that they were talking about me or DJ BB. “Once you know what the pest plant looks like, you will see it invading many public and private spaces”. Hehehe!

  6. Tell me about it.

    Maybe the best way to get rid of the plants is to whine and complain to them and about them over the internet because they’re mean to the exisiting plants and are damaging pavement and they’re probably just miserable old plants and the need to” GET A LIFE”.

    That’ll show, ’em.

    Jeez. Silly hipster sheep.

  7. They only wanted a good cup of coffee. Hehehe!

  8. Getting rid of these will be a true labor of love (love of CA natives, that is) and I thank anyone who has attempted to rip them out.

  9. Persistent application of herbicide is the best way to get rid of these. However, anyone who says they have no wildlife value is either being hyperbolic, dogmatic, or ignorant. All plants have at least some value to wildlife. I would recommend everyone read “The Rambunctious Garden” to get a more rounded perspective on the issue of novel ecosystems and the role exotics, whether invasive or not, can play.

  10. Tree of Heaven can be easily mistaken for the protected native Black Walnut trees. The leaves have a similar shape. Black Walnut leaves are smaller and the bark of the tree is dark grey with furrowed bark. Tree of Heaven trunks are lighter colored and somewhat smooth.

  11. i was driving past Garcetti’s old house the other day and the hill next to it is covered in these things. it’s a shame as they are turning into a forest and overtaking the hill (it’s a huge area). they were never there before this year; guess he had better gardeners.

  12. Don’t worry about our fine Councilman Eric Garcetti, he loves to talk up his green space policy, but it was under his watch that several hundred trees including protected Oak Trees were cut down in Silver Lake and replace with little tiny ones.

  13. I don’t know why people would rather see almost a grand spent on killing plants instead of planting plants. That amount of money could buy 300 1gal container plants from El Nativo or over 10#s of seed from the Theodore Payne Foundation. That tree is naturalized over almost the entire country. Trying to eradicate it is about of futile as helping Sisyphus with his rock.

  14. I’m glad we’re paying more attention to these invasive weeds. The biggest part of the problem is that the average home owner/renter doesn’t know this is a problem and allows these trees to develop into little forests in just a few years! We need a program of some kind to let every property owner or resident know about this devilish weed in the Mt. Washington area. I have helped to knock out quite a few of these sprouts and trees in the viscinity of W Ave 37 with the cooperation of my neighbors. If the city has to clean up weeds due to property owner neglect, they should also be allowed to remove these trees and charge the cost to the property owner.

  15. Many of the premises upon which such disdain for exotic is based are faulty. The work of Mascaro in Hawaii is showing that invaded ecosystems are at least as diverse as “pristine” (a horribly inaccurate word to describe an ecosystem) and invasion generally increases local biodiversity. Also, Mascaro’s work has shown that other measures of forest productivity such as nutrient cycling and biomass accumulation indicate that invaded forests are more productive than the pristine system that they replaced.
    The Clements model of ecosystems wherein species occupy niches and live in balance is outdated and is being supplanted by the Gleason model that posits a chance assemblage of species whose only claim to an environment is that they got there first. This means that the native-exotic framework is incredibly arbitrary.

  16. The minute I hear someone say that there is a “funding campaign’ at work to “eradicate non-native species”, my first thought is: this is a bogus program to pad the pockets of city parks departments whose funding is being cut in other areas. What better way to supplement their meager budgets than to concoct all these “non-native species”, costly eradication programs. If you follow this issue over the years, you will see that each year it is a new plant/weed/what have you that is going to cause eco-system blight in a matter of years if we don’t spray carcinogenic and neurotoxic poisons all over them right this minute (that’ll be $100 of your taxes to line our pockets, thank you very much!).

    Does anyone see the irony here? The “cure” is wayyyyy worse than the disease/imaginary problem that you’re trying to solve. I see thinly veiled pesticide manufacturer claptrap all over this “news release”.. Think about it, people. If these park rangers don’t invent problems to solve, there’s not much of reason to keep so many on payroll. Second, the unholy alliance between pesticide companies and “natural” parks departments is a fiscal marriage of convenience-nothing more, nothing less. The unfortunate part is that the public seems to be eating up this pre-packaged greenwashing like it’s actually good for the environment. It’s not. This is about as good for the environment as green-colored Doritos are for your arteries.

    The Audubon Society ought to be ashamed of itself. Pandering to this pabulum like a bunch of starving artists wanting to get on the Corporate “pay me off” payroll. For shame, Audobon, for shame.

    And to all you pesticide companies peddling this poison under a “green guise”. May your karma be as green as your gills. May you reap what you sow.”

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