In my ongoing search for the best information on ailanthus altissima, the Tree of Heaven (TOH), I came across Vadim Tiganas’ and Stefan Tiron’s ghettopalm.tumblr.com. This discovery is incredibly exciting beacuse Tiganas and Tiron write beautifully and powerfully about ailanthopolitics. It is also a little sad because I won’t have the joy of writing this story myself. But I will happily borrow and pervert this page with queer theory to see what it can tell us about resisting homonormativity, gentrification, and homogeneity.
[ALSO, technical aside, I am apparently too old for the internet. I don’t know how to contact someone directly through tumblr. I gather that it isn’t possible — I am not apparently a longtime fan of the site, so I can’t send ‘fanmail’. Can anyone help decode this mystery? Or is anyone better at finding Tiganas’ e-mail online so I can contact them? Comment or contact please!]
Here is a golden paragraph on TOH from the Ghetto Palm project. Savor.
TOH was a colonial exotic introduction from China at first, brought in by horticulturalist passions, botanist curiosity and dutifully planted as a decorative tree on the street sides at the end of the 19th century. They had to look more exotic, more cosmopolitan, sampling the resplendent jungles of the colonies and newly accessible territories for the best they had to offer in botanic terms. We slowly realized that the mercantile and cleptocratic mores of the Western society during the 18th and 19 century has a lot to do with the current situation of escaped ornamentals in modern cities. Cities have grown and prospered under the heavy imports of foreign crops, plants and biological specimens in the wake of a huge uncontrolled experiment, smuggling in and trading in live species from one corner of the world to the other. The age of discovery was also an age o acclimatisation. European familiars such as the rabbit or foxes were introduced with disastrous results to other bioregions of the world. The other side of the coin was the age of unbridled biological espionage practiced under the benediction of governments and company’s by Europeans and Americans in search of economic or aesthetic fortune. Plant hunters, famous naturalist, botanic aficionados or forgotten horticulture second hand collectors were in a race. It was a biological and natural history race to gather and get access to potentially rewarding specimens that had to be safely brought home, reproduced under care and transplanted into towns as part of the new biological common wealth of the west. This sort of makes our Ailanthus altissima story, a sort of “gremlin” narrative, were u get innocent-looking plants to nurseries back home, were they cannot obviously be properly contained. Ailanthus altissima has spread with the ebb and flow rythms of megacity sprawl or shrinking city. This is not the late neozoon or neobiota piggybacking we get when unwanted biological passengers hop on board and wreak havoc were they land. Ailanthus altissima is one of those introduced species looking like a good catch for the colonial capitalist entrepreneurship back home. It first looked to untrained but voracious eyes rather like another more valuable-looking or more economically-attractive species such as the varnish tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum), also originating in China. As other former Chinese prize crops or valuable ornamentals made their made to the West starting with the soy bean to the Chrysanthemum or tree peony, some like the Ailanthus altissima, slowly fell from favor but gained habitat. It is now perfectly adapted to our worldwide urban ecology, considered nothing more than noxious weed, busy destroying our pavement and crumbling our concrete monoliths, making our cities more like a sort of urban war zone were human-made biological wars are going on. But these are the green revolts that are happening around us continuously, when man-made ‘nature’ didn’t comply, didn’t do our bidding, didn’t follow the good behavioral lines or didn’t satisfy our aesthetic ideal anymore.
ailanthus altissima alongside Mauerpark, Berlin, November 2012