ASH TREE

It’s All in the Details

 

Ash Tree

 

Everything you need to know about the ash tree, from identification tips to typical characteristics; a step by step lifespan; how to prevent disease and the best methods of ash tree care.

The ash tree is a native UK species of tree that is often used for ornamental bordering thanks to its tendency to grow in groups, and its attractive leaves and highly elegant, graceful appearance. It is Britain’s third most common tree and pretty much dominates UK woodland.

 

ASH TREE

General Facts

Ash

(Fraxinus excelsior)

Common ash is found across Europe, from the Arctic Circle to Turkey. It is the third most common tree in Britain. It is currently being affected by Chalara dieback of ash, a disease caused by the Hymenoscyphus fraxineus fungus (previously Chalara fraxinea).

The pinnate leaves can move in the direction of sunlight

The flowers on the ash tree grow in spiked clusters at the tips of the twigs 

The winged fruits are distributed in winter and early spring. 

Any fruits that fall from the tree are dispersed by birds and mammals 

After pollination, the female flowers develop into conspicuous winged fruits 

Buds on as Ash tree are distinctively black and velvety 

The bark ranges in color from pale brown to grey, and fissures develop with age

Ash trees can grow to a height of 35m. They often grow together, forming a light domed canopy 

Common name: ash, common ash, European ash

Scientific name: Fraxinus excelsior

Family: Oleaceae

UK provenance: native

Interesting fact: ash trees can live to a grand old age of 400 years - even longer if coppiced.

A year in the life of an ash tree

 

What does ash look like? 

Overview: when fully grown, ash trees can reach a height of 35m. Tall and graceful, they often grow together, forming a domed canopy. The bark is pale brown to grey, which fissures as the tree ages. Easily identified in winter by smooth twigs that have distinctively black, velvety leaf buds arranged opposite each other.

Leaves: pinnately compound, typically comprising 3-6 opposite pairs of light green, oval leaflets with long tips, up to 40cm long. There is an additional singular 'terminal' leaflet at the end. The leaves can move in the direction of sunlight, and sometimes the whole crown of the tree may lean in the direction of the sun. Another characteristic of ash leaves is that they fall when they are still green.

Flowers: ash is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers typically grow on different trees, although a single tree can also have male and female flowers on different branches. Both male and female flowers are purple and appear before the leaves in spring, growing in spiked clusters at the tips of twigs.

Fruits: once the female flowers have been pollinated by wind, they develop into conspicuous winged fruits, or 'keys', in late summer and autumn. They fall from the tree in winter and early spring and are dispersed by birds and mammals.

Look out for: the black buds and clusters of seeds are key features. 

Could be confused with: rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and elder (Sambucus nigra). Elder has fewer leaflets and those of the rowan are serrated.

Identified in winter by ash has distinctive black buds and flattened twigs.

Where to find ash

Ash thrives best in fertile, deep and well-drained soil in cool atmospheres. It is native to Europe, Asia Minor, and Africa. It often dominates British woodland.

Value to wildlife

Ash trees make the perfect habitat for a number of different species of wildlife. The airy canopy and early leaf fall allow sunlight to reach the woodland floor, providing optimum conditions for wildflowers such as dog violet, wild garlic, and dogs mercury, and consequently insects such as the rare and threatened high brown fritillary butterfly.

Bullfinches eat the winged seeds and woodpeckers, owls, redstarts, and nuthatches use the trees for nesting. Because trees are so long-lived, they support deadwood specialists such as the lesser stag beetle. Often ash is accompanied by a hazel understory, providing the perfect conditions for dormice.

Ash bark is often covered with lichens and mosses. The leaves are an important food plant for the caterpillars of many species of moth, including the coronet, brick, center-barred sallow and privet hawk-moth. 

Mythology and symbolism

The ash tree was thought to have medicinal and mystical properties and the wood was burned to ward off evil spirits. In Norse Viking mythology, ash was referred to as the 'Tree of Life'. Even today it is sometimes known as the 'Venus of the woods'. In Britain we regarded ash as a healing tree. 

How we use ash

People have used ash timber for years. It is one of the toughest hardwoods and absorbs shocks without splintering. It is used for making tools and sport handles, including hammers, axes, spades, hockey sticks and oars. An attractive wood, it is also used for furniture. Ash coppices well, which traditionally provided wood for firewood and charcoal. 

Threats

The main threat to ash trees is Chalara dieback of ash, a disease caused by a fungus called Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (previously Chalara fraxinea). The disease causes trees to lose their leaves and the crown to die back, and usually results in their death.

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