Tree of Heaven vs Sumac – What’s the difference?

The tree of heaven and sumac are both popular and widely grown trees found all around the world. They both have similar growth habitats and are found commonly near roadsides and railroads. Due to this reason, both are often confused as the same. Also, due to their similar leaf shape and root system, many a time, people fail to distinguish between the two types.

Tree of Heaven vs Sumac – Difference

Although Tree of heaven and Sumac have common occurrence and growth habitats along with similar leaf compounds, they both can be distinguished and identified with their unique characteristics. The main differences can be seen through their leaves, bark, and fruits. Tree of heaven has a dark green with light green vein appearance in its leaves, while Sumac has medium green to orange-colored leaves. The barks of the tree of heaven bear vertical strips, while barks of sumac bear horizontal stripes. Also, the tree of heaven is mainly found in the farther west and is common in cities, while sumac is found more in natural areas in the farther north.

These are the basic differences between the two. Now, let us discuss some more differences and in detail.

Tree of heaven

The tree of heaven is also commonly known as Ailanthus altissima. Tree of heaven is native to China and Taiwan, but they grow all over the world. They mostly grow in disturbed habitats like roadsides and railroads, where there is major human influence and less in natural areas.

The tree of heaven is a fast-growing tree and a tall tree that reaches the height of 50-60 feet. The leaves of tee of heaven are known to have central stems and are longer than sumac leaves, ranging from 1-4 feet long. They also have 10-40 leaflets that have one or more teeth at the base, and the rest of the margin of the leaflet is not serrated.

The young barks are smooth, and the mature barks are light brown in color with vertical stripes. The fruits of the tree of heaven are not like typical fruits. The fruits grow in a bunch that hangs down from the tree, which is green at first and turns yellowish and pinkish later.


Sumac is also known as the Rhus typhina or Staghorn Sumac. It is native to eastern North American regions but is seen worldwide. Although sumac tends to grow in similar habitats like the trees of heaven, they majorly grow in natural areas, where there is less human influence.

Sumac is a small tree that grows up to a height of 30-40 feet compared to the tree of heaven. The leaves of sumac have a leaflet margin that is serrated along the entire length and has a central stem. It is comparatively shorter in length than a tree of heaven leaves and ranges from 1-2 feet long with 3-31 leaflets.

The young barks of sumac are smooth, and the mature barks bear a dark gray or grayish-brown color with horizontal strips, unlike the tree of heaven. Also, the fruits of sumac are popularly known as berries and are bright red in color.

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