DOWN with the ailanthus!" is the cry we hear on all sides, town and country, now that this "tree of heaven" (as the catalogues used alluringly to call it) has penetrated all parts of the Union, and begins to show its true character. Down with the ailanthus! "Its blossoms smell so disagreeably that my family are made ill by it," says an old resident on one of the squares in New York, where it is the only shade for fifty contiguous houses. "We must positively go to Newport, papa, to escape these horrible ailanthuses," exclaim numberless young ladies, who find that even their best Jean Maria Farina affords no permanent relief since their front parlors have become so celestially embowered. "The vile tree comes up all over my garden," say fifty owners of surburban lots who have foolishly been tempted into bordering the outside of their "yards" with it, having been told that it grows so "surprising fast." "It has ruined my lawn for fifty feet all round each tree," says the country gentlemen, who, seduced by the oriental beauty of its foliage, have also been busy for years dotting it in open places here and there in their pleasure grounds. In some of the cities southward, the authorities, taking the matter more seriously, have voted the entire downfall of the whole species, and the Herods who wield the besom of sylvan destruction, have probably made a clean sweep of the first born of celestials, in more towns than one south of Mason and Dixon's line this season.
* Original date of August, 1852.
The subject of shade trees, and especially their use in villages, was very dear to Mr. Downing's heart and he wrote of it frequently and copiously. It is fair to believe that his preaching had its effect, for the result, speaking in general terms, has gone in the direction he wished. American cities and towns have done much better of late years, though hundreds of them still have far to go. — F. A. W.
Although we think there is picturesqueness in the free and luxuriant foliage of the ailanthus, we shall see its downfall without a word to save it. We look upon it as an usurper in rather bad odor at home, which has come over to this land of liberty, under the garb of utility,* to make foul the air with its pestilent breath and devour the soil with its intermeddling roots — a tree that has the fair outside and the treacherous heart of the Asiatics, and that has played us so many tricks that we find we have caught a Tartar which it requires something more than a Chinese wall to confine within its limits.
Down with the ailanthus! therefore, we cry with the populace. But we have reasons besides theirs, and now that the favorite has fallen out of favor with the sovereigns we may take the opportunity to preach a funeral sermon over its remains that shall not, like so many funeral sermons, be a bath of oblivion-waters to wash out all memory of its vices. For if the Tartar is not laid violent hands upon and kept under close watch even after the spirit has gone out of the old trunk and the coroner is satisfied that he has come to a violent end — lo, we shall have him upon us tenfold in the shape of suckers innumerable — little Tartars that will beget a new dynasty and overrun our grounds and gardens again without mercy.
The vices of the ailanthus — the incurable vices of the by-gone favorite — then, are twofold. In the first place, it smells horribly, both in leaf and flower, and instead of sweetening and purifying the air, fills it with a heavy, sickening odor; † in the second place, it suckers abominably, and thereby overruns, appropriates, and reduces to beggary all the soil of every open piece of ground where it is planted. These are the mortifications which everybody feels sooner or later who has been seduced by the luxuriant outstretched welcome of its smooth round arms, and the waving and beckoning of its graceful plumes, into giving it a place in their home circle. For a few years, while the tree is growing, it has, to be sure, a fair and specious look. You feel almost, as you look at its round trunk shooting up as straight and almost as fast as a rocket, crowned by such a luxuriant tuft of verdure, that you have got a young palm tree before your door, that can whisper tales to you in the evening of that "Flowery Country" from whence you have borrowed it, and you swear to stand by it against all slanderous aspersions. But alas! you are greener in your experience than the Tartar in his leaves. A few years pass by; the sapling becomes a tree, its blossoms fill the air with something that looks like curry-powder, and smells like the plague. You shut down the windows to keep out the unbalmy June air if you live in town, and invariably give a wide berth to the heavenly avenue if you belong to the country.
* The ailanthus, though originally from China, was first introduced into this country from Europe, as the "Tanner's sumac" — but the mistake was soon discovered, and its rapid growth made it a favorite with planters. — A. J. D.
† Two acquaintances of ours, in a house in the upper part of the city of New York, are regularly driven out by the ailanthus malaria every season. — A. J. D.
But we confess openly that our crowning objection to this petted Chinaman or Tartar who has played us so falsely is a patriotic objection. It is that he has drawn away our attention from our own more noble native American trees to waste it on this miserable pigtail of an Indiaman. What should we think of the Italians, if they should forswear their own orange trees and figs, pomegranates and citrons, and plant their streets and gardens with the poison sumac-tree of our swamps? And what must a European arboriculturist think, who travels in America, delighted and astonished at the beauty of our varied and exhaustless forests — the richest in the temperate zone — to see that we neither value nor plant them, but fill our lawns and avenues with the cast-off nuisances of the gardens of Asia and Europe?