Sunday, May 28, 2017
Back in September American Kennel Club Chairman Ron Menaker wrote a piece entitled "The Show Must Go On" but his numbers were less than optimistic:
The sport of Conformation is the flagship AKC event, and is the sport that is at the very foundation of our Registry....
[T]he trends over the past ten years show us that Conformation is in a tenuous position. “The graying of the Sport” has become something of a buzzword in recent years, but we know that the issue is far more complex than the simple fact of an aging population.
... The numbers show a pretty clear picture.
All-breed and conformation entries have been falling over the past ten years.
Fewer conformation championships have been earned.
Every year, fewer dogs are exhibited in conformation.
Saturday, May 27, 2017
A Surprising Bit of Bird Taxonomy
Falcons are more closely related to parrots than they are to hawks and eagles.
A 5,200 year old bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) now known as Prometheus once lived on Mount Wheeler in Nevada. It was chopped down in 1963 by a geologist studying the age of trees.
Floating Solar Panels Over a Coal Mine
In China, a 40 megawatt solar farm is floating on top of a reservoir that is actually flooded coal mining land. Floating solar panels keeps valuable land free, reduces evaporation from reservoirs and, because the water cools the surrounding air, reduces solar module degradation and increase efficiency of production.
Was the First Human European?
European fossils may belong to the earliest known hominid.
Indian Dog Breeds are Going Extinct
The westernization of India is pushing endemic breeds such as the Chippiparai, Jonangi, Rajapalayams, and Kombai, over the edge.
Dogs of Amazon
Amazon has 4,000 registered canines — 500 of which on average come to the offices everyday with their employee owners.
Birth Control Recommended
The new Apple campus has a 100,000 sqft gym and no daycare.
Freecycle is like Craig's list, but of folks giving stuff away for free.
Put in the name of a TV show you like, and this web site will tell you of something similar and where to watch it.
Not Bird Brained
Chickens are remarkably intelligent and may even display empathy. And they certainly have routines.\
The Perfect Cold Brew Coffee?
The folks at Popular Science say that the Toddy Cold Brew Coffee Maker is the ticket.
The Andromeda Strain?
Suppose there are diseases hidden in the ice and they are waking up due to permafrost melting?
An Idiot Actor?
When Hugh Jackman was cast as the X-Men character Wolverine, he researched wolves, not knowing that wolverines were a very real, and entirely different, animal.
A World Without Ice
What would the world look like if all the ice melted? A bit different, but I would still be dry it looks like.
There is nothing more amusing than dog food debates among the counter thumping ignorants that engage in them.
As I have noted a hundred times, though dog food is a multi-billion dollar a year business, no evidence exists that any dog food is better than another. None. Zero. Nyet. Empty set.
My favorite brand of idiots are those who start dog food debates with "But wolves eat...."
Right. Wolves are not dogs. You know that right? You know that a dog vocalizes differently, marks differently, and has a different estrus cycle, right? You know that dogs and wolves also digest food differently right? No? You don't know that? OK, let me fill you in. From the good folks at LiveScience:
Axelsson and his colleagues analyzed the entire genetic codes of 12 wolves from across the globe, as well as the genomes of 60 individual domestic dogs from 14 different breeds. They pooled the domestic pups' results so that the genetic traits of individual breeds wouldn't skew the findings and then compared the pet dogs to the wolves, looking for places where the genomes diverged.
This game of "spot the differences" led the scientists to focus on 36 different regions. They found that 19 of these regions contained genes crucial for brain functioning, including eight important for the development of the nervous system.
It was no surprise to see differences in brain genetics, Axelsson said, given that dogs had to modify their behavior to fit into human society. What did surprise the researchers, however, were 10 regions held genes involved with diet, specifically the breakdown of starches. Humans are well-equipped for starchy diets: Human saliva contains an enzyme called amylase, which starts breaking down starches as soon as food hits the mouth. Dog drool doesn't have this advantage, but dogs do excrete amylase from their pancreases, allowing for the digestion of starches in the gut.
The researchers found that dogs have more copies of a gene called AMY2B, crucial for amylase production, than wolves. And in dogs, this gene is 28 times more active in the pancreas than in wolves.
Dogs also showed changes in specific genes that allow for the breakdown of maltose into glucose, another key starch digestion step, and in genes allowing for the body to make use of this glucose.
So wolves are not dogs. Similar, in some respects, but different.
You will find dogs and lions and tigers and bears at the circus leaping through hoops, but not true wolves.
You will find dogs pulling sleds and carts, but not wolves.
Wolves are not dogs.
But are they similar? Oh sure.
Both are pack animals with pecking orders. But so are chickens.
Both are opportunistic feeders. But so are chickens.
If a wolf is lucky enough to bring down a deer or an elk, they will tend to rip at the carcass starting with the easy access at the anus and burrow inward and upward to eat the stomach, liver, belly fat, and heart.
Wolves, like dogs and people, crave fats. If a wolf catches a familiar rabbit, it will probably eat it whole, same as a large dog, but if a fresh rabbit is found dead on the ground next to something as strange as a big lump of whale fat, it will eat the whale fat first. Fat is rare, and you take it when you can in as large an amount as you can.
And what of the wolf that catches neither rabbit nor deer nor elk? They will eat whatever they can, from acorns and grass to wild berries and trash. Ever watch a dog? They will do the same thing.
Wolf biologist David Mech notes that:
In parts of Eurasia, wolves live in areas with relatively little wild prey, but subsist nevertheless on a wide variety of foods provided indirectly by humans. Foraging in garbage dumps, wolves eat meat scraps and various fruits, as well as inadvertently consuming non-food debris. In Israel, the following items were found in wolf scat: human hair, plastic, tinfoil, cigarettes, matches, and egg shells. In Minnesota, long sharp shards of glass were found in Scott's of garbage dump feeding wolves."
So, bottom line: Wolves are not picky eaters nor are they pure carnivores.
Now, we get to the fun part. Do you know what they feed wolves in zoos? Dog food!
The Association of Zoos & Aquariums Nutrition Advisory Group offers the following advice on the feeding of red wolves:
Feeding requirements of red wolves have generally not been a problem in the RWSSP, as long as good quality commercial (dry) dog food is provided. Because of the number of commercial foods made, their availability, and cost it is difficult to recommend a specific brand. Wolves maintained in Tacoma have done well on food with label guarantees ranging from 22-28% protein, 8-18% fat, and 2-4% fiber. Vitamin supplements for red wolves are normally not required. Adding commercial carnivore log to dry chow may be needed to encourage some wolves to eat, although should not be the primary component of their feed.
So what do they feed wolves in zoos? Dog food. And what kind? It does not really matter (though Purina ProPlan gets a shout-out here) And how long do these zoo wolves live? A hell of a lot longer than those in the wild (and with better teeth too).
So feed your dog like a wild wolf (with the diseased rectum of a downer cow) or feed it like a zoo wolf (with Purina), but either way it will be fine.
Friday, May 26, 2017
Norway’s central bank is celebrating a new currency note which bears the image of one of the nation’s most important natural resources – the cod.
How could Black-footed Ferrets survive despite having such a narrow gene pool?
It all has to do with the marvelous fecundity and relatively short life span of some species which allows them to breed through the destruction caused by a small gene pool, same as mice, rats, and cats do when they are introduced onto islands.
Thursday, May 25, 2017
Why do dogs eat grass?
It's a common question, but in asking the question, an assumption is revealed.
The assumption is that dogs are not supposed to eat grass.
After all, no one asks why we humans eat chicken, corn on the cob, fish, or strawberries.
The short answer is that dogs eat grass because it tastes good and it provides some nutrition.
It is not a sign of worms, an upset stomach, or any kind of nutritional deficit.
That's the short answer.
Now let's look at the question a bit deeper.
Do wolves, fox, coyotes, and dingoes, also eat vegetable matter?
The answer is "yes."
Wolf biologist David Mech notes that grass appears in 14-43% of all wolf scat found in North America and Eurasia. Plant material in fox and coyote scat, including grass, is so common as to be unremarkable.
Leopards, jaguars, mountain lions, and bobcats also eat surprising amounts of grass. A sample of 215 leopard scats collected in the Tai National Forest of the Ivory Coast, for example, found 17% had a considerable amount of grassy vegetable matter.
Bears too eat a lot of plant material. Though classified as the largest carnivores in the world, bears eat more vegetable matter in their diet than flesh, and grass is a major food source.
So why do "carnivores" so often eat grass?
For the same reason you and I eat most of the foods we eat; it tastes good.
Of course the other answer is that it is maladaptive for them not to do so.
Let's explore that idea a bit more.
Specialization in food sources is a terrific idea so long as the world stays exactly the same, day in and day out, season after season, year in and year out.
But, the world is both temperamental and unreliable.
Crippling winters, blistering summers, and poorly timed rains can decimate populations of prey species.
Disease can wipe out herds, migration routes can change without warming, and new species can invade.
Water holes may dry up, salt licks may disappear, and predators can injure themselves in the chase.
And yet every few days, a predator must eat.
And that's the problem: The chain of life is so easily snapped.
For a meat-eating predator, the weakest link is the absence of ready prey, easily caught, day in and day out, in good health and bad, dry season and wet, winter and summer, year after year.
And so wolves, coyotes, dingoes, bears, lions, bobcats and jaguars have all evolved to eat plants, as well as flesh -- a way of "hedging the bet" for a few days against the vicissitudes of life.
Yes these animals will try to bring down a deer- or rabbit-sized meal if they can. But if they cannot, then they will try to catch a few rats or mice, a lizard or a snake, a frog or a turtle.
And if push comes to shove, there's always grasshoppers, crickets, and verdant grass along the creek. And it does not hurt at all that some of that grass actually tastes pretty good!
After watching the development of this Hercules Beetle from larvae to adult on YouTube (a very cool video, check it out), and after catching a few Eastern Hercules Beetles that have flown into my own house over the years, I decided to order off for two Eastern Hercules Beetle larvae (Dynastes tityus) to raise up in a home terrarium.
The larvae were very easy to order from Bugs In Cyberspace, and since I already had an empty and BIG glass terrarium, and an open bag of rotting hardwood wood mulch, the cost and effort was low.
The larvae are now safely housed in a deep bed of well-watered mulch, and there is not much to do now but make sure they don't dry out (the terrarium has a glass lid), and wait a year or so. I will plant something small on top of the larva, with maybe a little sign saying "future site of Hercules Plantation".
I do not know the sex ratio of Hercules Beetles, but assuming it's even, the two larvae I have now should give me a 75% chance of getting at least one male.
New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu does what should have been done long ago: he removes local monuments to treason, hate, terror, and racism. The speech he gave as the last monument was craned away, is truly exceptional. Listen to the whole thing !
Now, when will Virginia do the same? When will Richmond tear down the statues of confederate traitors and terrorists that line Monument Avenue?
Back in 2015, I wrote on this blog about True Southern Pride and Real Southern Shame. I repost that entire blog below.
True Southern Pride and Real Southern Shame
There are things to be proud of if you're from the South.
We can be proud of a dozen kinds of barbecue that are variously rubbed, soaked, basted, and slathered.
We know pig and we know chicken.
We can be proud that we have a long history of running coon hounds at night, and foxhounds during the day.
We know dogs.
We can be proud of our wildlife: turkey, deer, duck, geese, and bear. We hunt and fish, and we make no apologies for it.
We know forest, field and fen.
We are proud of our music. We invented Jazz, Blues, Bluegrass, Rhythm and Blues, and Southern Rock.
We glory in fireflies and snapping turtles, bluegills and bucket-mouthed bass, cane poles and bank lines for catfish.
There are things to eat in the South: corn bread and grits, biscuits and gravy, coleslaw and lemon meringue pie, watermelon pickles and fried green tomatoes.
There are things to drink in the South: RC Cola and sweet tea, lemonade and Cheerwine. I am told we make pretty good liquor, taxed and untaxed.
And let us not ever forget that we are tough. It took hard men to mine soft coal, to follow a plow, to bring in the hay, to run lumber through a mill, and to bring in the shrimp. It took smart men to give the world Coca-cola and CNN.
There's no shortage of things to be proud of if you are from the South.
But there's one thing to be ashamed of.
I don't need to say what that is, because there are still fools and pretenders who remind us of why we are ashamed every single day.
Some of these folks are true sister-fucking, knuckle-dragging racists.
Most, however, are just pretenders and wannabes.
These are the people who embrace the confederate flag as a right-wing political act.
These are the folks who follow the crowd, and who think aping "the cause" of the moment, as directed by Fox News, might suggest they have deep cultural roots and bonafides they actually don't have.
Most of these pretenders cannot even name their great, great grandfather and grandmother.
Roots? Chickweed has deeper roots!
Here's the thing: the Confederate flag that you see being waved about today has no real historical roots at all.
At best, it is a corrupted and historically inaccurate bastardization of the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, the area where I am from.
This fake "Confederate flag" was invented whole cloth in the 1950s when the Ku Klux Klan and racist segregationists wanted a symbol to wave during their televised hate campaigns.
As the folks over at Vox note, this Confederate flag has always symbolized white supremacy — and it has never symbolized anything else:
The Confederate flag began enjoying unprecedented national popularity and became a cultural symbol after World War II, just as the federal government began trying to make good on its Reconstruction-era civil rights promises....
... [I]t's not a coincidence that white Southerners were embracing the Confederate battle flag just as the South's system of violently enforced white supremacy was under its first real threat since Reconstruction. President Truman had vowed to do more to promote civil rights, integrating the military and telling the NAACP that civil rights could not wait.
In response, the Ku Klux Klan surged. Southern politicians displayed the Confederate battle flag when they railed against Truman. College students who supported Strom Thurmond's segregationist presidential campaign in 1948 waved Confederate flags at campaign events.
And so it started, and so it remains.
So if you think waiving a fake Confederate flag makes you a Southerner or shows your "pride in the South" and your "roots," I have only one thing to say to you: Fuck You.
Fuck you if you are so dumb, ignorant, lazy, and uncreative that the only way you can show Southern pride is to wave a Chinese-made flag.
Fuck you if, instead of showing true Southern hospitality, you work overtime to make others feel unwelcome and uncomfortable.
Fuck you if you do not want to celebrate the best of the South, but to remind people of the worst.
Fuck you, you fucking fucker.
The South is a great place, and those of us who love it will NOT be defined by four years of treason and failed insurrection ginned up by preening peacocks, hot heads, and terrified slave holders too lazy to actually work their own land more than 150 years ago.
I am sorry that you are such a loser that blaming others for your inadequacies is the only way you can wake up in the morning and not slit your own throat.
I am sorry you are so rootless that you have no positive cultural traditions to share with others.
I am truly sorry the only way you can show your "Southern pride" is to wave the most visible symbol of the South's historical and moral shame.
You are the worst the South has to offer. And for that, you should be ashamed. The nation already is.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Bentley introduced a falconry-themed Bentayga model car earlier this month. From the Bentley website comes this description:
“The Bentayga Falconry is just one expression of our capabilities, showcasing how our skilled craftspeople can devise and execute elegant bespoke solutions to compliment any lifestyle or hobby — from falconry and fly fishing to anything that you are passionate about.”
The Bentayga Falconry comes with two removable perches for your bird of prey; one in the trunk, and another between the front seats.
Terrierman believes Bentley need a Benayga Terrier Work, and I am even willing to write hysterically funny copy for it, as I have old-school Bentley experience.
The picture, below, is myself as a child, with family, in Morocco with our 1937 Bentley 4 1/4 Litre H-J. Mulliner Pillarless Saloon, Chassis Number B163JY. And yes, that's a terrier.
I don't think too many people are still digging with these old school Deben locator collars, but I am. The trick with the old school "knocker" collars is to understand that they were made defective, with a wire nearly exposed on the outer casing. These collars were, literally, designed to short out after a year or two. By taking brand new collars and covering them with JB Weld Epoxy to bury that wire, and by putting a rubber compression gasket on the cap, and by taping the collars well, I have managed to get a thousand digs out of these collars. I have slide tags on all the collars in case a dog gets lost and found (that's not happened yet), and the small red collars are more collars with slide tags that I make all visiting dogs wear (an entirely different kind of locator collar).
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
From StatNews comes this alarming investigative look into Donald Trump's collapsing cognition:
Research has shown that changes in speaking style can result from cognitive decline. STAT therefore asked experts in neurolinguistics and cognitive assessment, as well as psychologists and psychiatrists, to compare Trump’s speech from decades ago to that in 2017; they all agreed there had been a deterioration, and some said it could reflect changes in the health of Trump’s brain.
In interviews Trump gave in the 1980s and 1990s (with Tom Brokaw, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey, Charlie Rose, and others), he spoke articulately, used sophisticated vocabulary, inserted dependent clauses into his sentences without losing his train of thought, and strung together sentences into a polished paragraph, which — and this is no mean feat — would have scanned just fine in print. This was so even when reporters asked tough questions about, for instance, his divorce, his brush with bankruptcy, and why he doesn’t build housing for working-class Americans.
Trump fluently peppered his answers with words and phrases such as “subsided,” “inclination,” “discredited,” “sparring session,” and “a certain innate intelligence.” He tossed off well-turned sentences such as, “It could have been a contentious route,” and, “These are the only casinos in the United States that are so rated.” He even offered thoughtful, articulate aphorisms: “If you get into what’s missing, you don’t appreciate what you have,” and, “Adversity is a very funny thing.”
Now, Trump’s vocabulary is simpler. He repeats himself over and over, and lurches from one subject to an unrelated one, as in this answer during an interview with the Associated Press last month:
“People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall, my base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall. My base, which is a big base; I think my base is 45 percent. You know, it’s funny. The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the Electoral College. Big, big, big advantage. … The Electoral College is very difficult for a Republican to win, and I will tell you, the people want to see it. They want to see the wall.”
For decades, studies have found that deterioration in the fluency, complexity, and vocabulary level of spontaneous speech can indicate slipping brain function due to normal aging or neurodegenerative disease. STAT and the experts therefore considered only unscripted utterances, not planned speeches and statements, since only the former tap the neural networks that offer a window into brain function.
...The reason linguistic and cognitive decline often go hand in hand, studies show, is that fluency reflects the performance of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the seat of higher-order cognitive functions such as working memory, judgment, understanding, and planning, as well as the temporal lobe, which searches for and retrieves the right words from memory. Neurologists therefore use tests of verbal fluency, and especially how it has changed over time, to assess cognitive status.
The Yulin Dog Festival in China is not an ancient or traditional festival; it was invented in 2009 as a way for dog meat traders to make more money. For the last 7 years, thousands of dogs have been beaten and tortured before being skinned alive for restaurant meals.
Not this year.
The government of China has temporarily banned the sale of dog meat at restaurants, markets, and street vendors. Those who don’t obey will be facing a fine of up to 100,000 yuan (nearly $15,000) and arrested.
The ban comes into effect on June 15th, one week before what was to be the start of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival which has now been cancelled after 11 million people around the world protested.
Cat meat, however, is still currently allowed at the Yulin festival
This cartoon is from the great Nina Paley. I post it here because it reminds me of all the folks with dog problems. They ask: "How do you get Rover to stop doing [behavior]." I ask: "What are you doing now?" And they just blink. What? They are supposed to DO something???
Monday, May 22, 2017
From The Guardian comes this story of jobs no Briton will do:
On 24 June last year, the few hundred residents of a temporary village, hidden from view in the middle of a West Sussex soft fruit farm, received letters. They were signed by David Kay, the managing director of the Hall Hunter Partnership, a business that grows 10% of the UK’s strawberries, 19% of its raspberries and a whacking 42% of its blueberries across thousands of acres, of both glasshouses and polytunnels. The recipients were his seasonal workforce, some of the 3,000 pickers from Bulgaria, Romania and elsewhere who come here each year to get the harvest in, and without whom the business would simply not exist.
It seems the United States is not the only country in the world subsidizing low prices in the supermarket aisle by paying wages so low wages no native workers will do the job.
As it reported, around 20% of all employees in British agriculture come from abroad, these days mostly Romania and Bulgaria, while 63% of all staff employed by members of the British Meat Processors Association are not from the UK. Around 400,000 people work in food manufacturing here, and more than 30% of those are also from somewhere else. If free movement of labour stops, the British food industry won’t just face difficulties. Some parts will shudder to a halt. Shelves will be emptied. Prices will shoot up.
And it's not just pickers and packer jobs that are going to desperate foreigners, it's vet work as well:
[U]nder Food Standards Agency rules, an abattoir in England, Wales or Northern Ireland cannot operate unless the animals on the way to slaughter are overseen by one of their vets. This is work British vets don’t want to do. They would rather be out on the farm with livestock in the prime of their lives, or dealing with domestic pets. As a result, at least 85% of vets in British abattoirs are not from the UK. Apparently, the majority are Spanish. And if they couldn’t get into the country to do the job, the meat supply chain would collapse.
Britain’s largest pet insurance company, PetPlan, has been awarding dog dealers the status of ‘trusted breeders’ without performing so much as a basic check. The predictable result is puppies born into squalid conditions and riddled with disease.
And the whole things is fueled by kick kabcks: Every time a new puppy customer takes out a Petplan insurance policy, the breeders who is signed up to the "trusted breeder" scheme receives a "commission’ in the form of shopping vouchers.
Petplan makes no checks when accepting a new breeder on to its register; it's simply a pay-to-play dog dealing scheme with absolutely no oversight, inspection, or safeguards.
Being registered as a "trusted breeder" (i.e. paying a small sum and having your check clear the bank) allows puppy farmers to list and advertise their dpgs on Petplan’s "Find A Pet: website.
The Petplan scheme has been used by criminal dealers who buy in puppies but pose as breeders.
A gang of six dealers from Greater Manchester, led by former escort Grace Banks, imported hundreds of dogs from puppy farms in Ireland then pretended they had been born at home to family pets.\
She and her brother Julian King raked in about £8,000 a week between them by selling puppies in poor health to unwitting animal lovers. When arrested, Banks, 29, was found to have dead puppies in the boot of her Mercedes. The gang were registered with Petplan and offered the insurance cover with their dogs, some of which had just days to live....
...The gang were selling puppies of various breeds, including chihuahuas, pomeranians, spaniels, shih tzus and Yorkshire terriers, for between £550 and £650 each. Yet 65 per cent were later found by their heartbroken new owners to have had life-threatening, congenital defects.
From 1962 comes this Louvin Brothers tune that was released as the Cuban Missile Crisis was coming to a point.
Refrain: Are you (are you) ready
For the great atomic power?
Will you rise and meet your Savior in the air?
Will you shout or will you cry
When the fire rains from on high?
Are you ready for the great atomic power?
Do you fear this man's invention
That they call atomic power
Are we all in great confusion
Do we know the time or hour
When a terrible explosion
May rain down upon our land
Meting horrible destruction
Blotting out the works of man
There is one way to escape it
Be prepared to meet the lord
Give your heart and soul to Jesus
He will be your shielding sword
He will surely stay beside you
And you'll never taste of death
For your soul will fly to safety
And eternal peace and rest
There's an army who can conquer
All the enemy's great band
It's the regiment of Christians
Guided by the Savior's hand
When the mushrooms of destruction
Fall in all it's fury great
God will surely save His children
From that awful awful fate
Den repair is part of proper terrier work. Dens, after all, are not just used by groundhogs, but by raccoons, possums, and fox.
This dig was shallow, but a bit of a mess as it was almost in a cave of wood under a fallen tree.
If you just put the dirt back in the hole, you fill the den pipe and leave a big divot where water collects -- a very bad situation for future occupation. I branch over den pipes, as shown, and try to put vegetation, old feed bags, big flat rocks, or bark over the branches to keep the dirt out, with a water-shedding mound of dirt on top.
While driving out to hunt the dogs on Sunday, the biggest coyote I've ever seen ran right in front of my car. It was approaching 50 pounds, and I actually weigh animals, so that's not hyperbole.
Later, while repairing a groundhog sette on the edge of a field, I spotted this coyote turd. That's a #8 Opinel Knife for comparison purposes, so this is not a fox. And it's not a larger dog either; notice the fur in the scat.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
I took this picture today while resting after a dig. These are my basic tools for terrier work.
My pack is a bow/rifle pack and the shovel and long pieces (snare, machete, long handled trowel) fit as shown. The double pockets on the right fold over what you see here. Leashes, an extra set of gloves, two knives, scraper, water bottles, saw, and stake outs are in the body of the pack.
It's a long way from "Tree of Heaven" to "Ghetto Palm," but that's the linguistic path that Ailanthus altissima has taken in this country.
Like so many invasive weeds, such as kudzu and multi flora rose, the Tree of Heaven was first imported as an ornamental. A small easy-to-grow tree, it lent a slightly tropical-air to 19th Century American gardens.
Of course it soon got out of the garden, and has been spreading malevolence across the world ever since. About like Adam and Eve, truth be told.
A mature Ailanthus tree will produce several hundred thousand seeds a year. This little tree is truly invasive -- not only along the edges of fields, but also on median strips, driveways and even the cracks of sidewalks.
The Ailanthus can grow in almost any kind of soil, from clay to hard pan, from swamp to sandy rock, and it is not fazed in the least by thick, oily smoke from the exhaust of a passing bus. This is a tree that thrives on neglect, lack of water, and even physical abuse. They don't call it a "Ghetto Palm" for nothing.
This tree is a living monument to the tenacity of life in a harsh urban environment, and is, in fact, the star of the children's book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
That said, its hardiness is its only redeeming value. Ailanthus produces no wildlife value at all. Deer will not eat it, and unlike the Staghorn Sumac and Black Walnut, both of which it resembles in appearance, it produces no seeds or nuts of any interest to even the smallest creature, not even a mouse.
The Ailanthus, Staghorn Sumac and Black Walnut have long, palm-like compound leaves but the Ailanthus has little white dots on its new branches and a vertical white stripe or ridge on older trunks, while the dots on a Sumac's young trunk and branches are darker. Sumac leaves are light-colored underneath, and this little tree rarely grows much taller than about 25 feet. In winter, the new buds of Sumac look like they are covered in velvet, a little like a deer antler (hence the name), while Ailantus are simple hard points. Ailanthus branches are arrayed in whorled tiers, while a Sumac has Y-shaped crotches. While Ailanthus leaves turn brown or tan in the fall, Sumac leaves turn bright red -- a very nice display. A Black Walnut tree is easy to identify if it has nuts, of course, but also because this tree develops a very rough and dark craggy bark at a young age-- the easiest way to differentiate it from the other two species of tree.
Though an Ailanthus tree can grow to 80 feet in 10 years, the wood is terribly weak, and so light in weight it burns away in minutes. The branches are spaced in such a way they cannot hold up a bird's nest.
While averse to deep forest shade, Ailanthus commonly dominates forest edges and field hedgerows where it forms a weedy understory when mixed with pokeweed and multiflora rose.
A particular problen with Ailanthus is that the roots can run deep and wreck water and sewage pipes. And while a Tree of Heaven in the side yard may looks pretty in summer, in the dead of winter its trunk is stick-like, and only accents the dreariness of the season.
In Virginia, where I live, some folks call the Ailanthus a "stink tree," because if you crush almost any part of the plant, it has an off-putting odor. The scent is not just offensive to the nose -- the plant is a proven allelopath as well, which is just a fancy way of saying the plant seeps chemicals into the dirt that discourage other plants from taking root. Black walnuts and rhodedendrons do the same thing, of course, but they have at least a few noble properties to serve as a counter-weight, such as nuts and flowers and wood. The Ailanthus, truth be told, is good for nothing but sheer tenacity. This is a tree that cannot be killed by merely hacking it to the ground and plowing it under-- you have to put Round-Up on it,and probably do it more than once.
After everything else on this earth is gone, the Ailanthus (I am quite sure) will be thriving. The weedy will inherit the earth.