This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
And now about the Ailanthus. I fully believe that it is an"antidote " for the Rose bug, and other insect pests as well. At least our place, which is plentifully shaded with them, is very free from many sorts which torment our neighbors, and the canker worm has never visited us, except upon a few trees in the remote corner of the orchard, the furthest removed possible from any Ailanthus. But our trees are all of the sort called male Ailanthus, yet some of them have now obtained an age at which they bloom every year, scattering their seeds far and wide, every one of which germinates. The young Ailanthuses are in fact the most abundant weed on our place. How can that be accounted for ? They are all of one sort, being thryses of blossoms resembling those of the grape, feathery whitish, looking like delicate, white plumes, and smelling like - whew! They fall off, bringing the stamens upon the corolla. They are apparently all alike. Are they male trees ? Then why do the seeds germinate? Is not the female Ailanthus an entirely different tree, and is not this sort monaecious rather than diaecious?
[There is a popular misapprehension regarding the sexual character of the Ailanthus. There are trees which are purely stameniferous, sterile. These are odorous. There may be trees which are purely pistillate, but we have seen trees separated by perhaps half a mile from any other tree bear fruit freely, and we suspect they are often hermaphrodite. Cases have been known where trees for years producing one kind! of flowers only, have made branches yielding the other. Af any rate, it is the staminate trees,, as we generally see them, the odor of which is not that of roses. - Ed. G. M].
It's a great comfort to have started a new interest in anything that grows. My plea for the Ailan-thus seems to have done for it and your readers some good. I am not a botanist, only a lover of nature and of her products. I have for many years wondered why that beauty of the Ailanthus, which I have noted in your journal, had not won for it some respite of the much cursing which it has endured. And now it comes out in your September number that it is dioecious. The nauseating smell, it seems, belongs only to the separate estate of its masculine gender. The lovely seed plumes, whose bright tinted masses in autumnal garb I have so much acmired, we are told belong solely to the feminine branch of the family.
Now, I confess, I had suspected this. But the books at my command said nothing about this separate sexual habitation of the Ailanthus. So,for fear my ignorance would be taken to task, and learned quotations thrust at my suspicion of these separate connubial dwellings, I kept up a respectful and watchful silence.
Some of those nearly mid-August Ailanthus plumes I have sent to Mr. Veitch, of New Haven, and to J. Stauffer, of Lancaster, Pa., both of whom have obliged us all with desired notice and information. To the latter and to your readers I would say, that my"Ailanthus boquet" is not that of the Staghorn sumach.
The Ailanthus variety, which I described, grows to forty or fifty feet in height, and becomes quite a large tree. I think the most brilliant specimens grow in a rather shallow and sandy soil, thus maturing rather earlier, and like other trees so stationed, taking on sooner a more brilliant tinge. One of these"towering bouquets" is so fine an object by itself, and mingles so tastefully with either the Summer or Autumn tints of other trees, that its merits, habits and varieties, if any, should be well studied. We. may thus very likely acquire a plant whose tint in leaf and seed plumes shall rival those of the new Japanese maples. Let's hear from other observers.