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Bigger And Earlier

May 2024
1min read

I would like to add a few comments to Oliver E. Alien’s article “A Tree Grows in America” (April/May).

In June 1980 the last and smallest of the ailanthus trees in the front of my parents’ home in Fairfax, Virginia, fell down. This tree had previously been topped, decades earlier, by a high wind.

My parents’ home is Hope Park. It was probably built by Edward Payne in the mid-1700s, and it later belonged to George Washington’s friend Dr. David Stuart. When our family took possession, there were three very large ailanthus trees growing in the front yard.

In the 1960s the tree that was in the center was approximately one hundred and fifty feet high and had a girth of at least twelve feet. The rings on which horses had been tied were grown over and were fifteen feet high on the tree.

In addition to its smell this tree also attracts certain insects, but that is not all bad. Fireflies are much attracted to the trees, and there is nothing like a Virginia summer evening watching the spectacle of small lights streaming up from the group of trees.

Old timers in the area told us that these ailanthus trees were originally brought to Hope Park to promote a silkworm industry, but the insects could not survive the winters. Thus, seeing the obvious age of these trees, I believe ailanthuses came to Virginia earlier than the 1880s. When the last tree fell, we could see how hollow an ailanthus is. The hollow root system is also an excellent rabbit warren. The wood burns well, and the tree grows about fifteen feet the first year, but it is fairly hard to cut and even worse to split.

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