Dead Horse Ranch State Park Cottonwood Grove
Ailanthus, commonly known as Tree of Heaven or Paradise Tree, has been in the Verde Valley for a long time. It could have been brought with the Chinese that came to work in Jerome during the mining days. Ailanthus is, after all, native to China and this is how many invasive plants make their way across oceans. The explosion of this plant we know, from historical records, happened in the 1950’s to help shore up the hillsides of Jerome. The smelter in Clarkdale had been processing tons of copper and belching out toxic smoke that killed all but the hardiest of trees, Ailanthus was a survivor!
At the time there was a concern that the precarious homes perched along the fragile hillsides of Jerome would tumble down if they were not able to get something to grow and stabilize the hillside, plus some thought the hillside needed some greening up. At the time it may have seemed an ingenious idea, the mine company collected 65 pounds of Ailanthus seed, loaded them into an airplane and flew over Jerome, dropping the load over the town and the surrounding mine tailings. The seeding was a success, the seeds germinated and shored up the hillside and potentially saved Jerome from joining Clarkdale in the Valley, but they also left a legacy of one of the most aggressive invasive trees around. Soon the Ailanthus trees were not only on the disturbed slopes around Jerome but were part of the landscape as shade trees on city street and parks and in resident’s yards in the Verde Valley. Today, not only does it keep the hillside in place and give shade to historic homes in Jerome, Clarkdale and Cottonwood, it has invaded washes and the riparian areas and has become a threat to our healthy watershed.
Friends of Verde River Greenway (FVRG) volunteers have spent innumerable hours removing Ailanthus by hand at Dead Horse Ranch State Park (DHRSP) only to have them grow back, thicker and thicker.
During the 2012—2013 treatment season, CREC’s Verde Crew was able to remove all of the Ailanthus trees from the area below the 10th Street bridge. When they were done, there wasn’t an Ailanthus tree in sight. But fast forward six months and their they were, poking there heads up through the leaf litter.
FVRG’s Marsha Foutz was almost ready to give up on the site, until VWRC Stakeholders on a field trip to the site held a spontaneous seedling pulling event. Emboldened by the discovery that the recent rains had loosened the soil, Marsha organized volunteers to come to Dead Horse and pull plants. In three hours ten volunteers pulled approximately 1,500 seedlings. The next week our new treatment crews pulled another 1,000 trees in an hour. And a week later, a group from Yavapai County Adult Probation came to pull even more. In all, over during these initial efforts more then 4,000 sprouts, seedlings and saplings were removed from the riparian corridor, making significant headway in the removal of Tree of Heaven from this beautiful Cottonwood Grove.
And since this time, our volunteers have returned. With shovels, picks and determination to remove the invasive plants. And each time there are fewer and fewer, showing the outcome of volunteer determination.