In the early summer of 2014, I was on vacation in Pine Grove (PA), and saw this large plant by the side of the road. It is huge. For scale, the pokeweed in the pic is about 7' tall. This weed is woody. The current growth seems to have sprouted from a stem about 4' tall (last year's growth). It had grown over 16' taller this year, with huge compound leaves and an umbel at the apex. Unfortunately these are the only photos I can find. What is this plant?

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  • Can you remember what the tree is directly behind - can only see the trunk in the picture?
    – Bamboo
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 11:33
  • @Bamboo I think that was a tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), but I could be mistaken.
    – J. Musser
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 15:57
  • It looks to be very close to the tree behind, close enough to possibly be volunteer rootstock growth, or suckers, particularly as it seems to be so fast growing. Reminds me of some sort of Sorbus variety.
    – Bamboo
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 13:22
  • @Bamboo Yeah, it does look like a sucker. The tree behind it has different leaves, but it's possible that a tree was removed there in the near past - didn't check at the time
    – J. Musser
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 23:03
  • Maybe... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraxinus_nigra
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 3:21

4 Answers 4


Pretty sure this is Melia azedarach, or Chinaberry. It's an invasive weed tree in many areas, but is not completely hardy in the zone I found it, which would be why it regrew from so low (winter killed back to that point).

The inflorescence I have photographed in the question is underdeveloped (immature), not what the actual flowers look like once they open. From here, I found a picture of a young leaf that closely resembles mine. They gain some gloss once completely mature.

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Did you happen to notice any spines? It sure feels like Devils Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa)

The scale and situation are correct. From what I can see the leaves are large and complex enough, and the flower clusters jive with immature Walking Stick flowers. I don't see spines in the photos, but you don't tend to see them on the new leaves and branches.

Could this be it?

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I would say it is most certainly Ailanthus altissima, judging by the flower buds at the end of the branch, the shape and the pale underside of the leaves, the tree bark of the tree behind the plant, which is probably the parent plant by seed dispersion (it is common to find young trees in the surrounding area of an older tree) and the overall look of the plant. The leaves give off an unpleasant smell when rubbed, and the flowers in bloom also smell very unpleasant. It is a very aggressive weed tree and it will grow anywhere, and fast. Its fruit looks interesting but if you spot it in your garden, or even on the street, have no mercy, because it is hard to eradicate and once it spreads it can wreak havoc on the local ecosystem and it can damage buildings and infrastructure.

A mature tree.

  • No, the leaves are wrong.
    – J. Musser
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 21:47

I believe what you have is Hercules club

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