Tree of Heaven – September 2016 Plant of the Month (Not!)

Doug Goldman, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Doug Goldman, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

by Ann Farnham, LLA

Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima

“Heaven” in this case does not mean “Heavenly”. On the contrary, this tree is a serious pest; the word “Heaven” is derived from the South Moluccan name Ailanto, which means a tree reaching for the sky.

Ailanthus altissima is native to China, Taiwan, and North Korea. It was first introduced to Europe in the 1740’s and to a Philadelphia gardener in 1784. It has since spread greatly and is now naturalized throughout most of the U.S.A., Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, and Africa. In this country it can be found from USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8A. This is reportedly the fastest growing tree in the United States, 3’ to 6’ per year, and it is difficult to control.

Why has it spread so successfully? When it was introduced to the U.S.A. it was used widely as a street tree, in spite of its very offensive odor (some compare it to cat urine, or worse), and it thrived because it required no care and people wanted the shade. It tolerates conditions almost impossible for other tress: very poor soils, a vast pH range, drought, and pollution such as sulfur dioxide, high salinity, low phosphorus, coal dust, cement dust, and ozone. In addition, it sends up new growth from cut trunks, resulting in countless, vigorous sprouts; new trees also come up from the underground stems (rhizomes) and the female tree is a prolific seed producer. The achene, the flat, reddish fruit 1 ½” long and ½” wide, is twisted, thin, and flat, containing one seed, and is very easily carried by wind as it spins. It germinates in cracked pavements, walls, disturbed sites, roadsides, and woodlots, crowding out all other vegetation. Underground pipes and sewer lines are frequently damaged by the trees’ roots. Ailanthus contains an allelopathic chemical which inhibits other plants’ growth, and the foliage is mildly toxic to foraging animals. Deer do not eat it, nor do birds and squirrels. The odor from both male and female trees often causes nausea and headaches in humans, and contact can cause skin rash. It is easy to understand why this plant is called “Arboreal riff-raff”. However, it was subject matter in the book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and it is mentioned by William Faulkner in Sanctuary.

Tree of Heaven will live about 50 years. It can reach a height of 40 to 60’, normally spreading to a width 2/3 that size. It has an upright, spreading habit and casts abundant shade. The compound leaves, 8 to 24” long, are arranged alternately on a stem, with 13 to 25 stalked, finely fuzzy, oval leaflets. The new leaves are bronzish-purple and mature to a dark green in summer. They have no fall color. When crushed, the leaves smell like rubber. The bark is light colored grey, with longitudinal, lighter streaks. The female trees usually flower in mid June, with yellow-green flowers arranged in panicles on an 18” to 24” stalk. The female flowers are odorless, but the male flowers stink as mentioned above, a smell which attracts pollinators.

Diseases and pests are minimal and do not create lasting damage.

Eradication is a challenge. A young seed sprout can probably be pulled up, but more mature specimens require cutting, and the resultant sprouts then should be treated with Glyphosate (Roundup) or an equivalent. Salt and vinegar and other homemade concoctions will not do the trick. If this tree appears in your yard, get to work!

Ailanthus has been used for “impossible situations”, such as eroded areas in mine runoff, but it is nonetheless regarded as having no landscape value. Extracts from the tree have been used in folk medicine, primarily by the Chinese, to address baldness, dysentery, mental illness, inflammatory conditions, and malaria, among others. The leaves have been used to grow silkworms and the fine-grained satiny wood can be used for cabinetry, although the uneven trunk texture-from rapid growth- causes cracking during drying. Most people feel that its best use is for firewood.

Do not confuse Ailanthus altissima with Black Walnut, Staghorn Sumac, or Ash, which have similar leaves. We addressed Ash in a recent Plant of the Month article, and will be writing about Staghorn Sumac (a non- invasive native which also grows prolifically on roadsides) and Black Walnut soon.

To learn more about invasive plants, go to and

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

Wintercreeper Euonymus – August 2016 Plant of the Month (NOT!)

Euonymus fortunei

Euonymus fortunei

by Ann Farnham, LLA

Wintercreeper Euonymus, Euonymus fortunei

No! Don’t plant this!

Once again we visit the genus Euonymus, with another popular but very invasive species. Wintercreeper, Euonymus fortunei, is native in East Asia, China, Korea, Japan and the Philippines. It was discovered in China by the Scottish plant explorer Robert Fortune (1812-1880) and distributed widely after that time.

This plant is fast growing, evergreen, and very easy to grow; it tolerates most soils except swampy ones, has a wide pH tolerance, and does well in full sun to heavy shade. It thrives in USDA Hardiness zones 5 TO 8. Wintercreeper can be a ground cover, a vine, or a small shrub, depending on its care and culture. No wonder it is so popular, with dozens of varieties or cultivars in the trade.

The leaves can be dark green to bluish green; some varieties have silver veins, and some are variegated green and white, or green and yellow, and some turn dark purple in the winter. They are usually 1” long or less, oval shaped, have toothed margins, and are arranged oppositely on the stem. The mature plant, as can usually be seen at the top of a vining habit, has a differently shaped leaf. Only mature plants form flowers and set seed. The flower is inconspicuous.

However, it is a thug and it took a while to recognize this. The mature plant’s seeds are enjoyed and dispersed widely by birds, squirrels, and deer, among others. It is an attractive groundcover, 4-6” high, or a small shrub to 3’, but easily escapes from where it is wanted and forms very dense thickets which crowd out native plants; its vine form can climb trees to a height of 40 to 70’, killing the trees by smothering their foliage. Wintercreeper is found in most of the Eastern United States to Zone 8.

Euonymus fortunei is attractive not only to us gardeners, but to many insects and fungi as well. Scale is a very frequent problem as are Anthracnose, leaf spots, aphids and mildew.

To control Euonymus fortunei, first of all, don’t plant it, especially where it might escape or be eaten by wildlife. Plants in small areas can be removed by pulling it up by hand, being cautious not to leave roots behind; they will sprout. Large area infestations and vines crawling up trees can be controlled by cutting them down and then spraying or applying Glyphosate (Roundup®) immediately to the cut stems. Mowing or weed whacking definitely makes the matter worse.

To learn more about invasive plants, go to and

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

Burning Bush – July 2016 Plant of the Month (NOT)

euonymousby Ann Farnham, LLA

Burning Bush, Euonymus alatus

No! Don’t plant this!

This very popular shrub, known also as Winged Euonymus, Winged Spindle, Wahoo, and Winged Spindle Tree, has been listed as invasive in 19 states, primarily in the Northeast, including New Jersey. It is banned in Massachusetts and New Hampshire but its destructive effects are present in most Eastern states where it has not been banned or declared invasive. Unfortunately, most garden centers and nurseries still offer it for sale.


Information| |Description = Euonymous Alatus in autumn colour |Source = self-made / |Date = created 3. Oct. 2002 |Author = Chris Barton/Gif absarnt

Introduced from Northeastern Asia and China in the late 1800s, it has thrived here because it is very easy to grow, has few pests, and adapts to a very wide variety of soil types, moisture or drought, sun and shade (and non-green thumbed gardeners). Its outstanding fall color, a brilliant red, is also responsible for its popularity as a hedge, a specimen plant, and many other landscaping uses.

While the flowers are ornamentally insignificant, the attractive seeds are prolific and very viable from this self-pollinating plant. Birds and other berry-eating animals disperse them widely, where they form great thickets in woodlands and uncultivated sites, out-competing most native plants.

The term “winged” is based on the fact that many of the stems have corky “wings”. The leaves, 1 to 3” long and up to 1 ¼” wide, are simple and arranged oppositely on the stem; they are bit downy underneath. The spring and summer leaf colors are medium to dark green. Burning Bush might grow to 15-20’ in height but the growth rate after a fast spring flush is slow. There are many varieties today; most of them are shorter and more compact. The shrub’s habit is mounded-rounded.

To control Burning Bush, pull, dig or cut it out. If the plant is very large, cut it down and treat the stump immediately with glyphosate or another chemical weed killer, being very careful to follow instructions on the label.

Readily available native alternatives to Burning Bush are Black Chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa, Highbush Blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum, and Fragrant Sumac,  Rhus aromatica.

Burning Bush has been touted as a cure or aid for many medical conditions through the years. Buyer beware!

To learn more about invasive plants, go to and

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

Come Walk/Bike With Us

walkingNew! Bi-Weekly trail meet-ups  starting July 9th

The Mercer County area is filled with wonderful places to walk, bike and hike so join Ewing’s Environmental Commission and Green Team for a casual bike ride and/or walk biweekly beginning Saturday, July 9th.  Our newly formed independent walking/hiking/biking club will meet to explore local and regional trails, enjoy nature, get a little exercise (at your own pace) and just have some fun. It is open to everyone.

Each meet-up will begin at the trail site. Then we’ll head out and use the trail together. Kids are welcome with an adult. Helmets are required for those biking the trail.  We love dogs so they are definitely welcome, on a leash.  Bring what you’ll need, such as:

  • comfortable walking shoes
  • an umbrella or light rain jacket
  • bicycle
  • helmet
  • water bottle
  • insect repellent (as needed)
  • dog-poop bags, etc.


The full schedule of planned meet-ups will be published shortly.  The first expedition is scheduled for Saturday, July 9, 7:00 a.m. starting at the Brearley House, a historic Georgian brick house built in 1761 in Lawrenceville.  We will walk north on the canal.


Take I95 to exit 8 for Princeton Pike Rd. north, go about a quarter mile and take a right onto Meadow Rd. and go about an eight of a mile to the end to Brearley House.

The second event is planned for July 23 at 7:30 a.m. at Baldpate Mountain. We will meet at the parking lot off Pleasant Valley Rd. entrance and then enjoy a moderate hike.  Baldpate is the highest point in Mercer and affords an excellent view of the river and the City of Trenton.


Take Rte. 31 North from Ewing (abt. 2 miles from I95- Rte. 31 interchange).  Then make a left turn onto Pennington Harbourton Rd. (appr. 3 mi.).  Continue on to Pleasant Valley Road for abou 1.2 mi.

Use your best judgment in case of inclement weather. Summer events will begin at 7:30 a.m. to avoid the heat. *Note: Once the cooler fall weather begins we’ll look into switching the time frame to a slightly later start time, depending on interest.


Invasive Forest Pests and the Threats to our Forests

Watch this excellent video from the Cary Institute about the threats to the health of our forests from invasive pests and their suggestions about what we can do to halt them.

Norway Maple – June 2016 Plant of the Month

norwaymapleleafby Ann Farnham, LLA

Norway maple, Acer platanoides

No! Don’t plant this!

This maple tree is seen almost everywhere in the United States north of Hardiness Zone 7 and west to Minnesota. Native to Europe, it has thrived in the U.S.A. since it was introduced in the 18th century to Philadelphia by John Bartram, an early American botanist and horticulturist.

Acer platanoides adapts to extremes in soil (acid or alkaline, clay, sand), compaction, hot and dry weather, air pollution, and either full sun to part shade. As a result, its toughness has contributed to over-use as a street tree (especially after the Elm tree die-out), lawn specimen, and park tree. It has become invasive, crowding out native plants in our woodlands and forests because of its heavy seed crop and high germination rate, and site adaptability. Pests and diseases (Powdery mildew, Verticillium wilt, Anthracnose, Leaf scorch,) have not diminished its spread but the recent arrival of the Asian long-horned beetle may change that for the Norway maple as well as for all the native maples.

Why has the Norway maple fallen out of favor? 1. It crowds out our native plants, about which we have become more appreciative and knowledgeable. 2. It is very shallow-rooted, starving other plants of moisture and sunlight, so nothing can grow under its wide canopy (especially lawn grass and most ground covers); the roots also heave sidewalks and streets. 3. It is fast growing and thereby brittle, causing extensive damage from breakage. Norway maple has been banned in New Hampshire, Maine, and New York.

This Maple is easily confused with our native Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum. They both have opposite, simple, 3 to 5 lobed, dark green, pointed leaves, but the Norway maple leaves are slightly larger, 4 to 7” across as opposed to the 3 to 6” Sugar Maple leaves. The Norway maple has a milky sap which can be extracted from its petioles (the leaf stalk) whereas the Sugar Maple sap is clear. The seeds in both species, samaras, are flattened, two-winged, and differ considerably as can be seen in the photographs.

Norway maple will occasionally reach 90’ in height although 40-50’ high is the average, with a spread 2/3 or equal to the height. It casts very deep shade. The fall foliage is usually yellow and the tree holds its leaves longer than other maples do. The wood is yellowish-white to pale red, and has been used for furniture making although the wood is reportedly not durable.

There are dozens of varieties of Norway maple which include a range of growth habits and leaf color, such as that of ‘Crimson King’ and ‘Dissectum’, which will doubtless continue to make this tree popular. Work is ongoing to develop sterile varieties.

To learn more about invasive plants, go to and

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.


Celebrating National Trails Day at the Johnson Trolley Trail

Celebrate National Trails Day on Saturday, June 4th with the dedication of the newly refurbished Johnson Trolley Trail (at the end of Whitehead Road Extension).  Join Mayor Bert Steinman and the Township Council at 10 a.m. at the ceremony opening the newly renovated Ewing portion of the Johnson Trolley Trail and then try it out…

The Johnson Trolley Trail is the bed of an old trolley, known as the “Fast Line,” run by the Trenton-Princeton Traction Company from appr. 1901/1940.  Fares were only 10¢. Today, you can walk or bike the right-of-way abandoned by the former trolley company for free on a restored trail.  The trail is split up into two sections, north and south, which are split by Interstate 95.  The Ewing section is the terminus of the southern section.  Restoration of this final piece under Ewing control has been completed.  Join us as we celebrate this historic addition to Ewing trails.

For more information about the restoration see our Trails page.

Japanese Knotweed – May 2016 Plant of the Month (Knot!)

Japanese Knotweed

PLANT of the MONTH (Knot ! ) Japanese Knotweed, Polygonum cuspidate


by Ann Farnham, LLA

It is unlikely that today you will find this plant for sale at your local nursery, but that was indeed the case for many years. Originally introduced from Japan to England around 1825 and then to the United States, it was found in Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey in 1894. This plant was praised for its ornamental qualities, easy care, landscape screening potential, and erosion control. Today Japanese Knotweed thrives in 36 of our 48 States. It is extremely difficult to eradicate and its dense thickets exclude all other plants.

Japanese Knotweed along HighwayThis plant, also known as “Japanese Bamboo”, “Mexican Bamboo” and “Fleece Flower”, can be identified by its scale-covered hollow stems, smooth- edged pointed leaves, 4-6” long and 3-4” wide, arranged oppositely on the stems. It can reach 3 to 10’ high and blooms in August and September with white to creamy-white flower groups (panicles) 3 to 6” long. It prefers full sun and wet sites, but will tolerate dry soil, salt, shade, and high temperatures, especially in disturbed sites, road-sides, ditches and vacant lots. Deciduous and dioecious (the male and female flowers are not on the same plant), it is very susceptible to frost and turns brown, dying back immediately, becoming at the same time a dormant season fire hazard. Being a perennial plant, the roots and rhizomes (underground stems) remain very much alive.

Japanese Knotweed Sprouts

Japanese Knotweed is very difficult to control or to get rid of. If you find it in your garden or elsewhere, do not pull it out without learning more about it. Any small particle of root or stem left behind (and the rhizomes can extend 30’ beyond the plant) in a removal will sprout into a new plant which then forms a new thicket; the dense, thick colony suppresses all other plants.

Cutting, mowing, and digging stimulate new growth. Eradication requires, un- fortunately, the use of an herbicide, glyphosate (Roundup) or triclopyr as a foliar spray when the plant is fully and recently leafed out. Do not spray to the point where the herbicide drips off.  One of these products can also be applied to a stem cut about 2” above the soil surface, but within a half hour of its cutting, as the cut surface will heal over after a half hour. Extreme care must be taken not to use these herbicides if there is a wind, breeze, or rain, and the application must be very precisely applied. Check the recommended solution carefully.

Bag the dead or cut remnants of the plant and dispose of them carefully in the garbage where they will not sprout and start anew. Do not compost or add to a municipal waste site where the brush, leaves, and garden trash will be composted.

Several years ago a team of Ewing Environmental Commission members attempted to rid the Johnson Trolley Trail of Japanese Knotweed; the challenge continues to this day.

The medicinal qualities of Japanese Knotweed were and are today enumerated in detail to cure or lessen bone loss, cancer, tumors, fever, constipation, burns, cardiac problems, infections, and more. It is touted as a health supplement, “antioxidant” and “cardio protectant”. Too good to be true? Buyer beware!

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

Johnson Trolley Trail Update

PaintingJTT1Spring cleaning is definitely in process throughout township and the Johnson Trolley Trail is the recipient of some elbow grease by EEC members Joe Mirabella and Lee Farnham.  You may recall from our last post that the Township received a grant to upgrade the existing trail in 2012.   EEC Chair and NJ DEP hazardous waste supervisor Joe Mirabella inspected the bridge and this past weekend he and fellow painting enthusiast were hard at work applying a fresh coat of paint.   Now remains only the planting of low-maintenance shrubs and grasses at certain parts of the trail.


Photos were supplied by Denise Montervino who  wrote in saying “A job well done.  My name is Denise Montervino and my husband Tom and I walk the trail almost daily , so it is nice to see these gentlemen caring about the community.  A big thanks for keeping Ewing a great community to live in.”

Ewing Trail and Park to Receive TLC with Spring Cleanups in the Works

totmplantingEEC and local students volunteer cleanup assistance at Johnson Trolley Trail and Watson Park

Spring clean ups for the Johnson Trolley Trail (JTT) and John S. Watson park are planned in April in observance of its twin environmental celebrations – Earth Day and Arbor Day. The Ewing Environmental Commission (EEC) has long had these locations in its sights and under the supervision of EC member and local landscape architect Dan Burke, plans are moving forward.  What a great way to observe Earth Day and Arbor Day!

Watson Park

John S. Watson Park is situated on 66 acres off of Upper Ferry Road and is traversed by the West Branch of Shabakunk Creek. It is a lovely rural setting, great for family gatherings under a pavilion with picnic tables, BBQ grills and playground equipment. The park is named for John S. Watson, former Ewing resident, first African-American elected to the Board of Chosen Freeholders in Mercer County, and former six term legislator in the New Jersey General Assembly.  He was the father of our current Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman.

Cleanup and plantings will be done during the month along the Shabbakunk. On April 15th a crew of TCNJ Bonner student volunteers will don boots and gloves and clean-up debris and pull invasive plants from the banks.  Later in the month, the Christina Seix Academy will send 70 elementary students to plant trees and volunteers from DRBC, Watershed Ambassadors will help with the planting.

2016 Americorps Watershed Ambassador Susan Lee has secured a donation of 300 small shrubs and 100 small trees for Watson Park and a few other locations. Ewing landscape company, Rock Paper Garden will secure supplies, prepare the tree area for planting, assist with any leftover planting, and then mulch and install deer fencing.

Johnson Trolley Trail

The Johnson Trolley Trail is the bed of an old trolley, known as the “Fast Line,” run by the Trenton-Princeton Traction Company in the first half of the 1900s.  Fares were only 10¢. Today, you can walk or bike the right-of-way abandoned by the former trolley company for free on a restored trail.  The trail is split up into two sections, north and south, which are split by Interstate 95.  The Ewing section is the terminus of the southern section.

The JTT has been the recipient of TLC since 2012 when the Township received a grant to upgrade the existing trail. Ground work has been done and now remains only the planting of low-maintenance shrubs and grasses at certain parts of the trail and some refurbishing of the bridge over Shabakunk Creek.  Following a bridge inspection by NJ DEP hazardous waste supervisor and 2016 Chair Joe Mirabella, the EC is set to commence with painting the first two weekends in April.

Make Every Day Earth Day

The EC also encourages Township residents, friends and neighbors to join with us for a cleaner Ewing and to make your yard a refuge in our ecologically impoverished suburban landscapes. Get outside and clean up your street of litter, clear storm drains.  Help alleviate rain water run off to storm drains by directing roof gutters to the ground and installing rain barrels.  Forget the pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  Garden Nature’s way.  Compost and keep your grass clippings and leaves.  Better yet, remove some of that grass and plant a garden for wildlife; even a small one will help.   And don’t forget to plant a (native) tree!  Every yard can use one!