Ailanthus altissima (a.k.a. tree of heaven) is a tree that many love to hate. Imported from China in the late 1700s, this tree is now a serious invasive species in many states. Each female tree can produce more than 300,000 seeds every year which germinate easily and then grow rapidly.
Belle Isle is home to more and more of these trees each year. Richmond Tree Stewards, with the approval of the city arborists and Nathan Burrell of the James River Park system, have arranged to have twenty or more mature Ailanthus removed. Some are more than 40 feet tall.
Yes, these trees provide beauty and shade and, like all large trees, protect watersheds. The downside is that these trees have the potential to become a dominate species on Belle Isle and this would have a devastating effect on native wildlife.
The area that is cleared will be replanted with native species that belong on the island and function to feed and shelter the critters that live there.
While we understand that many Richmonders love their trees and really hate seeing a tree cut down, we feel this is the right thing to do. Work will begin on Tuesday, June 2.