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A lot of my time at Guideposts was spent ghostwriting stories, but after a while my boss over at Angels, Colleen Hughes, let me write some essay-style pieces as well. Most of these turned in one way or another around the hidden spiritual elements of everyday natural objects The Rose, The Shell, The Seed, etc.

Writing these pieces, I always had to keep things fairly simple. But keeping things simple did not on good days at least mean making the stories shallow and one-dimensional. Most of the natural objects I wrote about in these essays were mysterious precisely because they were simple and NOT simple, completely and humbly understandable, and, at the same time, completely and. I also wrote a lot of animal pieces at Guideposts and Angels, sometimes in my own voice and sometimes in the voice of other narrators.

These pieces very often turned around the death of the animal in question, and when they did they would take me back to a concern I thought about a lot when I was younger, mostly during my early teenage years. The question stayed with me over the years, and I would often take special note, once I started reading books about myth and religion, of what this or that author said about the souls of animals — whether they had them or not, and what happened to them, in the long run, if they did.

But the real question about animals I got interested in while working at Guideposts and Angels was slightly different from whether they had souls or not — though it was related to it. The question was a perfect example of one of those spiritual issues that can seem either idiotically simple or stunningly complex and profound, depending on how you approach it.

A stupid idea? Hundreds of letters came in, most of them positive, and of course a few of them negative as well — for the fact is, when you say that animals have souls you irritate not one but at least two main classes of people: modern materialists, who think the question of whether humans have souls is already stupid enough, but also Christian hardliners, who see heaven as a nice. It was mentioned in the oldest extant Chinese dictionary and listed in many Chinese medical texts for its purported curative ability.

The roots, leaves and bark are used in traditional Chinese medicine , primarily as an astringent. The tree has been grown extensively both in China and abroad as a host plant for the ailanthus silkmoth , a moth involved in silk production. The tree was first brought from China to Europe in the s and to the United States in It was one of the first trees brought west during a time when chinoiserie was dominating European arts, and was initially hailed as a beautiful garden specimen.

However, enthusiasm soon waned after gardeners became familiar with its suckering habits and its foul smelling odor. Despite this, it was used extensively as a street tree during much of the 19th century.

The Divine Life of Animals | Ptolemy Tompkins

Outside Europe and the United States the plant has been spread to many other areas beyond its native range. In a number of these, it has become an invasive species due to its ability both to colonize disturbed areas quickly and to suppress competition with allelopathic chemicals. It is considered a noxious weed in Australia , the United States , New Zealand and many countries of central , eastern and southern Europe.

The tree also resprouts vigorously when cut, making its eradication difficult and time-consuming. This has led to the tree being called " tree of hell " among gardeners and conservationists. In many urban areas, it has acquired the nickname " ghetto palm " for its tenacious growth. The twigs are stout, smooth to lightly pubescent, and reddish or chestnut in color.

They have lenticels as well as heart-shaped leaf scars i. The buds are finely pubescent, dome shaped, and partially hidden behind the petiole , though they are completely visible in the dormant season at the sinuses of the leaf scars. The ends of the branches become pendulous.

All parts of the plant have a distinguishing strong odor that is often likened to peanuts, cashews, [8] or rotting cashews. The leaves are large, odd- or even- pinnately compound, and arranged alternately on the stem. When they emerge in the spring, the leaves are bronze then quickly turn from medium to dark green as they grow. The leaflets are ovate-lanceolate with entire margins, somewhat asymmetric and occasionally not directly opposite to each other. They have a long tapering end while the bases have two to four teeth, each containing one or more glands at the tip.

The individual flowers are yellowish green to reddish in color, each with five petals and sepals. Male trees produce three to four times as many flowers as the females, making the male flowers more conspicuous. Furthermore, the male plants emit a foul-smelling odor while flowering to attract pollinating insects. Female flowers contain ten or rarely five through abortion sterile stamens stamenoides with heart-shaped anthers. The pistil is made up of five free carpels i. Their styles are united and slender with star-shaped stigmas. The samara is large and twisted at the tips, making it spin as it falls, assisting wind dispersal, [6] [8] and aiding buoyancy for long-distance dispersal through hydrochory.

The first scientific descriptions of the tree of heaven were made shortly after it was introduced to Europe by the French Jesuit Pierre Nicholas d'Incarville. D'Incarville had sent seeds from Peking via Siberia to his botanist friend Bernard de Jussieu in the s.

The seeds sent by d'Incarville were thought to be from the economically important and similar looking Chinese varnish tree Toxicodendron vernicifluum , which he had observed in the lower Yangtze region, rather than the tree of heaven. D'Incarville attached a note indicating this, which caused much taxonomic confusion over the next few decades. Webb, the owner of an exotic plant garden in Busbridge , England.

Confusion in naming began when the tree was described by all three men with three different names. In Paris, Linnaeus gave the plant the name Rhus succedanea , while it was known commonly as grand vernis du Japon. In London the specimens were named by Miller as Toxicodendron altissima and in Busbridge it was dubbed in the old classification system as Rhus Sinese foliis alatis. There are extant records from the s of disputes over the proper name between Philip Miller and John Ellis, curator of Webb's garden in Busbridge.

Rather than the issue being resolved, more names soon appeared for the plant: Jakob Friedrich Ehrhart observed a specimen in Utrecht in and named it Rhus cacodendron. He published an article with an illustrated description and gave it the name Ailanthus glandulosa , placing it in the same genus as the tropical species then known as A. The name is derived from the Ambonese word ailanto , meaning "heaven-tree" or "tree reaching for the sky".

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He decided to transfer Miller's older specific name into the genus of Desfontaines, resulting in the accepted name Ailanthus altissima. The plant is sometimes incorrectly cited with the specific epithet in the masculine glandulosus or altissimus , which is incorrect since botanical, like Classical Latin , treats most tree names as feminine. There are three varieties of A.

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The tree prefers moist and loamy soils, but is adaptable to a very wide range of soil conditions and pH values. It is drought-hardy, but not tolerant of flooding. It also does not tolerate deep shade. The earliest introductions of A. It is possible that the tree is native to these areas, but it is generally agreed that the tree was a very early introduction. In , not long after Jussieu had sent seeds to England, some were forwarded to the United States by William Hamilton , a gardener in Philadelphia. In both Europe and America it quickly became a favoured ornamental, especially as a street tree, and by it was available in most nurseries.

It has escaped cultivation in all areas where it was introduced, but most extensively in the United States. In North America , A.

On the west coast it is found from New Mexico west to California and north to Washington. For example, a study in North Carolina found the tree of heaven was present on 1. For this reason, control measures on public lands [41] and private property [42] are advised where A. Tree of heaven is an opportunistic plant that thrives in full sun and disturbed areas. It spreads aggressively both by seeds and vegetatively by root sprouts , re-sprouting rapidly after being cut.

The same study characterised the tree as using a "gap-obligate" strategy in order to reach the forest canopy , meaning it grows rapidly during a very short period rather than growing slowly over a long period. It can withstand cement dust and fumes from coal tar operations, as well as resist ozone exposure relatively well. Furthermore, high concentrations of mercury have been found built up in tissues of the plant. Ailanthus has been used to re-vegetate areas where acid mine drainage has occurred and it has been shown to tolerate pH levels as low as 4.

It can withstand very low phosphorus levels and high salinity levels. The drought-tolerance of the tree is strong due to its ability to effectively store water in its root system.


The roots are also aggressive enough to cause damage to subterranean sewers and pipes. Ailanthus produces an allelopathic chemical called ailanthone , which inhibits the growth of other plants. The same study tested the extract as an herbicide on garden cress, redroot pigweed Amaranthus retroflexus , velvetleaf Abutilon theophrasti , yellow bristlegrass Setaria pumila , barnyard grass Echinochloa crusgalli , pea Pisum sativum cv.

Sugar Snap and maize Zea mays cv. Silver Queen. Populations without prior exposure to the chemicals are most susceptible to them. Seeds produced from exposed plants have also been shown to be more resistant than their unexposed counterparts. The tree of heaven is a very rapidly growing tree, possibly the fastest growing tree in North America.

Forest and tree symbolism in folklore

Shade considerably hampers growth rates. Older trees, while growing much slower, still do so faster than other trees. Studies found that Californian trees grew faster than their East Coast counterparts, and American trees in general grew faster than Chinese ones. In northern Europe the tree of heaven was not considered naturalised in cities until after the Second World War. This has been attributed to the tree's ability to colonize areas of rubble of destroyed buildings where most other plants would not grow.

It has colonized natural areas in Hungary , for example, and is considered a threat to biodiversity at that country's Aggtelek National Park.