Development of an allelopathic compound from tree-of-heaven (ailanthus altissima) as a natural product herbicide

Rod M. Heisey

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

11 Scopus citations


Since 1959, it has been known that Ailanthus altissima produces one or more phytotoxic compounds. The major toxin was recently identified as ailanthone, a member of the quassinoid group. In greenhouse trials, purified ailanthone exhibited moderate preemergence herbicidal activity and strong postemergence activity. It also had potent herbicidal activity under field conditions. In one field trial, ailanthone was sprayed postemergence onto seedlings of 17 species of weeds and crops. The lowest application rate (0.3 kg/ha) reduced shoot biomass of six species to = 10% of the control and 10 species to = 50% of the control. Ailanthone is relatively nonselective, but cotton, yellow nutsedge, and A. altissima seedlings show a high level of tolerance. Ailanthone also was tested in the field for its ability to control weeds in several vegetable crops (beans, tomato, cauliflower, corn). A marked reduction in weed population occurred for a few weeks after application, but the herbicidal activity was short-lived. Nine weeks after spraying, weed biomass in the most effective treatment (0.6 kg/ha) was 60% of the weed biomass in the untreated control. Ailanthone is rapidly degraded by soil microorganisms. It killed many of the weed seedlings present at the time of application, but its herbicidal activity was rapidly degraded. As a result, weeds that were not killed were able to recover and a new crop of weeds was able to emerge and grow. Ailanthone exhibits a number of the same problems that have prevented other natural products from being developed as commercial herbicides; however, its striking herbicidal activity under field conditions justifies further investigations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationBiologically Active Natural Products
Subtitle of host publicationAgrochemicals
PublisherCRC Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781420048629
ISBN (Print)0849318858, 9780849318856
StatePublished - Jan 1 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Chemistry
  • General Medicine
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)


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