‘Dangerous’ Tree of Heaven puts Portland man through ordeal

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Tree of Heaven was cut down but the roots keep growing

PORTLAND, Ore (KOIN) — Reggie Williams had a Tree of Heaven in his Northeast Portland yard. But the City of Portland actually says it’s “an alien plant invader” that has “cracked foundations, shifted pipe and caused an untold amount of damage” in many local neighborhoods.

Williams’ battle with the Tree of Heaven has been extreme over the past few years. He first noticed something was wrong in the basement of his Northeast Portland home in 2017. Two years later he shared his story with KOIN 6 News, and now four years into his ordeal experts are saying his home may need to be torn down.

“I’m going through a bunch of crazy,” he said. “I’m on medication. I’m going through counseling behind this. I never thought this would ever happen to me. This should never happen to anybody in America.”

According to the original engineer’s report in 2019, two foundation walls had “cracking that is likely causing the structure to become unstable.” The engineer said it was the Tree of Heaven between Williams’ house and his neighbors.

One early estimate showed the damage to his home would cost $36,000 to $38,000 to repair.

His neighbors didn’t follow through on the permit they got to cut the tree down. So he filed a lawsuit and cut the roots to protect his house.

Reggie Williams’ Northeast Portland home is being destroyed by the roots of a Tree of Heaven, a tree he had cut down 2 years ago, September 2021 (KOIN)

But the City of Portland said that made the tree “dangerous” and ordered Williams to take the tree down. He paid an arborist to take it down 2 years ago.

Since then the situation got even worse. In January, a second arborist told him the Tree of Heaven was still on the attack.

“She’s saying the roots are still growing and damaging my house,” he told KOIN 6 News. “With that species of tree, the Tree of Heaven, from what I gathered you could cut that tree and it’ll still keep growing the roots. So, I guess that’s what’s going on.”

In February 2021 an engineer said the cement slab floor in Williams’ basement is “bulging” because of roots growing underneath.

A third arborist looked at the situation and wrote a report in July 2021 that said it’s “possible that roots from the now-removed tree could be growing and expanding below and around the slab foundation causing it to crack.”

“Those are fresh cracks, man,” Williams said. “They’re forming all throughout my basement floor.”

Last year, Williams got an estimate from another contractor to fix his foundation: $129,855.

In February the original contractor who said it would cost up to $38,000 to fix the foundation took another look and came back with much worse news.

“The various repairs required to make the home whole again are too many and too expensive to salvage. My recommendation would be to raise the house and remove all tree roots from the lot before rebuilding.”

Williams has homeowners insurance. But the Oregon Division of Financial Regulation confirmed insurance doesn’t cover things like this.

“I can’t keep living here like this,” he told KOIN 6 News. “Matter of fact, they’re even saying my house can collapse on me at any given time.”

He started a GoFundMe to help with his problems. And his lawsuit against his neighbors is scheduled for trial in March 2022.

What people should do about Tree of Heaven

These trees are in many Portland neighborhoods. It’s just one of many non-native species that cause problems. Identifying it is the first step.

“At the base of each leaf, there are these glands and these glands are a really good indicator,” said Justin Collell, the Clark County Noxious Weed Control Board Coordinator.

Justin Collell, the Clark County Noxious Weed Control Board Coordinator, shows the distinctive leaves of a Tree of Heaven, deemed an “alien plant invader,” September 2021 (KOIN)

Experts say fall is the time of year that you may need to poison it because the sap is moving toward the roots carrying nutrients for the winter. The sap will carry the poison to the roots.

“We get calls all the time from landowners who have either cut it down or their neighbor cut it down. And then they have sprouts coming up all over their yard,” Collell said. “The roots will actually have new sprouts coming up for years afterward. So you do really need to have a professional get rid of it the correct way. You can’t just cut it down.”

Collel cautions every situation is different. People can get advice through the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board. In Oregon property owners can contact their county Soil and Water Conservation districts.

Justin Collell, the Clark County Noxious Weed Control Board Coordinator, shows the distinctive leaves of a Tree of Heaven, deemed an “alien plant invader,” September 2021 (KOIN)

Some people may not like the idea of using poison but with some invasive species there isn’t much other choice.

Experts say if you don’t do it right the tree sends a signal to the roots that it’s under attack and it “will respond by producing fast growing root and stem sprouts.”

The Tree of Heaven is a big concern in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. The tree is host to the spotted lanternfly, which can devastate crops. And there is concern the spotted lanternfly is coming to the Northwest.

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