Monday, November 20, 2023

Flint Expat Classics: Ode to the Ghetto Palm (Ailanthus Altissima)

Originally published on Friday, June 19, 2009

I mentioned the ghetto palm in my story on
house hunting in Flint, and it seems some readers are not familiar with the charms of this invasive species, also known as the Tree-of-Heaven. I'll let the Plant Conservation Alliance, which describes the tree on its "Alien Plant Working Group Least Wanted" list, sing its praises:

"Tree-of-heaven is a prolific seed producer, grows rapidly, and can overrun native vegetation. Once established, it can quickly take over a site and form an impenetrable thicket. Ailanthus trees also produces toxins that prevent the establishment of other plant species. The root system is aggressive enough to cause damage to sewers and foundations."
It also has a nice stank about it and is very difficult to eradicate.

"You have to cut them down and keep cutting them down for three years to get rid of them," exclaimed Tim Monahan, the president of the Carriage Town Historic Neighborhood Association, over coffee yesterday. Needless to say, he's not a big fan.

But I can't be too hard on the much-maligned trees. After all, I've got a ghetto palm forest in my temporary backyard. I'm trying to blend in and not provoke these aggressive predators, especially after learning
"each leaflet has one to several glandular teeth near the base.


  1. Yes, a tree grows in Brooklyn as well. I have these... and these and these... it's only one of the many invasives in my garden.

  2. Anyone familiar with "The Day of the Triffids"?

  3. This is a lot like the Oleander tree/bush. Pesky, but a good source of security as it grows thick.

  4. Wow. That looks like quite a BRAMBLE. Sure wouldn't want to get caught in that GREASY BRAMBLE!

  5. Suddenly I see them everywhere. I featured the Tree of Heaven in my East Village Magazine piece on Chevy in the Hole last summer, but I found it depressing yesterday on my walk that they are all along Gilkey Creek, some fifty or sixty feet tall. Well, as my friend Tracy Wacker said in that EVM piece, the definition of a weed is something that grows where somebody doesn't want it I guess ailanthus altissima belongs where nobody fights it.

  6. I say if you have if you have one cut off the Branches and make it into a palm Tree... its the Closes thing we have here as palms.

  7. Otherwise known as the "switch tree"!


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at