Wikipedia:Today's featured article/April 15, 2008

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Large Ailanthus altissima specimen growing in a park in Germany

Ailanthus altissima is a deciduous tree in the Ailanthus genus of the Simaroubaceae family. It is native to northeast and central China as well as Taiwan. Unlike other members of the genus Ailanthus, it is found in temperate climates rather than the tropics. The tree grows rapidly and is capable of reaching heights of 15 metres (50 ft) in 25 years. However, the species is also short-lived and rarely lives more than 50 years. A. altissima was first brought from China to Europe in the 1740s and to the United States in 1784. 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 to quickly colonise disturbed areas and suppress competition with allelopathic chemicals. It is considered a noxious weed in Australia, the United States, New Zealand and several countries in southern and eastern Europe. The tree also re-sprouts vigorously when cut, making its eradication extremely difficult and time-consuming. In China, the tree of heaven has a long and rich history. It was mentioned in the oldest extant Chinese dictionary and listed in countless Chinese medical texts for its purported ability to cure ailments ranging from mental illness to balding. (more...)

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