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The Tree of Heaven

Alianthus cermak canalport

Ailanthus is a tree native to Asia, brought here as a decorative plant. In America it is considered an invasive species, destroying foundations as it springs forth from sidewalks and the sides of buildings, growing tall and shading other plants from the sun. Some wish to eradicate this tree from the places it has set down roots. It sprawls in urban jungles, crawling out of the cracks in the concrete; you won’t find it in a forest dancing in the breeze with the other trees. It is the Ghetto Palm, the stink weed. But “ailanthus” is translated as the Tree of Heaven. And isn’t this the land of the free?

Mural Carpenter Cullerton

It is in urban communities that people of different generations and of different nationalities recognize this wood. They could be in Brooklyn or Chicago, in an African American neighborhood, Mexican, or Irish. This tree, like the people that recognize it, seeks to exist against all obstacles. It thrives in the worst conditions. It overcomes adversity. To some it is an invasive species, to others it is distinctly American, unifying in the hope to survive.