Indigenous Trees – Ash

Ash – Fraxinus Excelsior‘, Woldingham, Surrey, originally uploaded to flickr by mountainashe

From British Trees

Where found:
Mostly calcerous soils although found on all except poorest and acid soils (above ph 5.5). Prefers moist but well drained fertile soils. Up to 450m in altitude. Grows well in mixed stands provided not shaded. Natural distribution throughout British Isles and Europe into Asia Minor and Caucuses. Rare north of Great Glen in Scotland.

image of an Ash leaf.

Phenology timeline:

Flowers Leaves Fruit Ripen Fall
April May June October Sept

Uses past & present:
Pale creamy wood that is strong and elastic. Uses of wood – Hockey sticks, oars, paddles, rudders, billiard cues, cricket stumps, polo sticks and policemen’s truncheons. Also used for veneer and furniture. Burns fragrantly when green or dried due to low water content even when green (30 – 35%) but seasoning (to 15% water) does improve efficiency.

Propagation and Growth:
Grow from seed – deeply dormant – treat as per Acer campestre. Long thin brown seeds approx 2.5cm long. Approx 8000 germinable seeds per kg. Seeds form in large sprays. If planted green seeds may germinate following spring or even straight away whereas brown seeds will germinate the second spring after planting. Grows quickly to 20 – 40 years old but growth stops at 60 years.

From Royal Forestry Society

Ash, trees, forestry,woodlands
The common ash in Britain bears the Latin name Fraxinus excelsior It is a large familiar tree with a long silvery grey stem in lowland woods. On higher ground it becomes a shorter picturesque billowing hedgerow feature.The branches reach out widely and twist skywards.

ash foliage, woodlands, forestry
Ash foliage with fruit or ‘keys’ in the background. From an image copyright Eva Wallander.

It is deciduous and comes into leaf late in spring.

The 20-30cm leaves are pinnate, which means they have a central stem and 9 to 13 toothed oval leaflets arranged in pairs with a single one at the tip. It sheds its muddy brown or dusty yellow coloured autumn foliage early. In winter clusters of prominent black velvety buds provide a unique clue to the trees identity. A good drawing of ash is available elsewhere online.

The flowers appear before the leaves in April, in loose clusters near the tips of the twigs. They are green in colour, small and inconspicuous, possessing neither calyx nor corolla. The renowned dendrologist, the late Alan Mitchell, described the ash as a tree of ‘total sexual confusion’. It may be unisexual with individual trees bearing only male or female flowers; it may be bisexual in that individual trees bear both male and female flowers: individual branches on the same tree may bear only male or female flowers or both; individual branches may bear only male flowers one year and only female flowers during the following year. The flowers may be male, female or bisexual.

ash female flowers, woodlands, forestry
Female flowers of ash in spring. From an image copyright Eva Wallander.

Eva Wallander of the University of Gothenburg has a World Wide Web site with further images of the flowers of the Fraxinus excelsior as well as images of other ash species. There are about 65 species world wide. European ash occurs naturally from Britain and Ireland to the Caucasus and western Russia, and from the Mediterranean coast northwards to Scandinavia. Fraxinus is a genus of the Oleaceae family and is closely related to jasmine, lilac and the olive, a fact that is not immediately obvious at first sight.

ash leaves, woodlands, forestry
muddy brown and yellow autumn foliage. From a drawing by John White.

Individual trees may live in excess of 400 years. Some are particularly large, the largest averaging about 45m. ( 149 ft) in height and 6m ( 20ft ) girth in UK.

Although hardy enough to survive anywhere, ash trees prefer valley bottoms and stream sides. They must have full light at all times and never be crowded out by other trees. They grow easily from seed but it must be collected and sown in early autumn while still green.

The timber is pliable and tough but not durable enough to use untreated outside. Forest trees 40cm in diameter (about 60 years old) produce optimum quality wood. Ash is the only British native timber that has never been replaced by an imported substitute. As an amenity tree it makes a bold landscape statement but spends much of its annual life cycle in the leafless state. Very little else will grow under ash so it is not encouraged as a park or garden tree.

ash flowers, woodlands, forestry
image showing typical black buds when leafless and male inflorescence just opening in spring. From an image copyright Eva Wallander

The English name ash is derived from aesc the Anglo-Saxon name for a spear, once a common use for ‘ground ash’ as young slender saplings were called. The name Fraxinus was given to the tree by the Romans. It seems likely to have been derived from the Greek phrasso meaning a fence. Ash, living or dead, has always been used for marking field boundaries.

The old Latin name for the seeds (ash keys) was lingua lavis meaning bird’s tongue, which they closely resemble.

Ash coppices freely if felled before maturity.The quick grown poles are valued for such purposes as tool handles.

Ash wood is light brown in colour with little difference between sapwood and heartwood. The wood is too perishable for any use which brings it in contact with the ground. It is a first class firewood. As a wood ash is renowned for its toughness and pliability which taken together make it the best wood in the world for tool handles, sports goods such as hockey sticks, oars and where wood framing may be required for large vehicles or caravans. If a wood is required to take a shock or a strain and absorb it smoothly without risk of fracture, ash is the best choice.

From wikipedia

Fraxinus excelsior (Ash; also European Ash or Common Ash on occasion to distinguish it from other ash species), is a species of Fraxinus native to most of Europe with the exception of northern Scandinavia and southern Iberia, and also southwestern Asia from northern Turkey east to the Caucasus and Alborz mountains. The northernmost location is in the Trondheimsfjord region of Norway.[1][2]

Male flowers Male flowers

It is a large deciduous tree growing to 20-35 m (exceptionally to 46 m) tall with a trunk up to 2 m (exceptionally to 3.5 m) diameter, with a tall, domed crown. The bark is smooth and pale grey on young trees, becoming thick and vertically fissured on old trees. The shoots are stout, greenish-grey, with jet black buds. The leaves are 20-35 cm long, pinnate compound, with 7-13 leaflets, the leaflets 3–12 cm long and 0.8–3 cm broad, sessile on the leaf rachis, and with a serrated margin. The leaves are often among the last to open in spring, and the first to fall in autumn if an early frost strikes; they have no marked autumn colour, often falling dull green. The flowers open before the leaves, the female flowers being somewhat longer than the male flowers; they are dark purple, and without petals, and are wind-pollinated. Both male and female flowers can occur on the same tree, but it is more common to find all male and all female trees; a tree that is all male one year can produce female flowers the next, and similarly a female tree can become male. The fruit is a samara 2.5-4.5 cm long and 5–8 mm broad, often hanging in bunches through the winter; they are often called ‘ash keys’.[1][3][4]

Foliage and immature fruit

Foliage and immature fruit

Least Concer

It is readily distinguished from other species of ash in that it has black buds, unlike the brown or grey buds of most other ashes.


Ash occurs on a wide range of soil types, but is particularly associated with basic soils on calcareous substrates. The most northerly ashwood in Britain is on limestone at Rassal, Wester Ross, latitude 57.4278 N.

A number of Lepidoptera use the species as a food source. See Lepidoptera which feed on Ashes.


Replica of the body frame from the Volvo ÖV 4 car, made primarily from ash wood Replica of the body frame from the Volvo ÖV 4 car, made primarily from ash wood

The resilience and rapid growth made it an important resource for smallholders and farmers. It was probably the most versatile wood in the countryside with wide-ranging uses. Until the Second World War the trees were often coppiced on a ten year cycle to provide a sustainable source of timber for fuel and poles for building and woodworking.[5]


The colour of the wood ranges from creamy white through light brown, and the heart wood may be darker olive-brown. Ash timber is hard, tough and very hard-wearing, with a coarse open grain. It lacks oak’s natural resistance to decay, and is not as suitable for posts buried in the ground. Because of its high flexibility, shock-resistance and resistance to splitting Ash wood is the traditional material for bows, tool handles, especially for hammers and axes, tennis rackets and snooker cues, although American hickory, from trees of the genus Carya arguably performs even better for these purposes. Ash is valuable as firewood because it burns well even when ‘green’ (freshly cut). Ash was coppiced, often in hedgerows, and evidence in the form of some huge boles with multiple trunks emerging at head height can still be see in parts of Britain. In Northumberland crab and lobster pots (traps) sometimes known as ‘creeves’ by local people are still made from ash sticks. Because of its elasticity European Ash wood was commonly used for walking sticks. Poles were cut from a coppice and the ends heated in steam. The wood could then be bent in a curved vice to form the handle of the walking stick. The light colour and attractive grain of ash wood make it popular in modern furniture such as chairs, dining tables, doors and other architectural features and hardwood flooring, although the wood is often popularly stained jet black.


There are a number of cultivars including;

  • Fraxinus excelsior ‘Aurea’, see ‘Jaspidea’
  • Fraxinus excelsior ‘Aurea Pendula’ (Weeping Golden Ash)
  • Fraxinus excelsior ‘Autumn Blaze’
  • Fraxinus excelsior ‘Autumn Purple’
  • Fraxinus excelsior ‘Crispa’
  • Fraxinus excelsior ‘Diversifolia’ (One-leaved Ash)
  • Fraxinus excelsior ‘Erosa’
  • Fraxinus excelsior ‘Jaspidea’ (Golden Ash)
  • Fraxinus excelsior ‘Monophylla’
  • Fraxinus excelsior ‘Nana’
  • Fraxinus excelsior ‘Pendula’ (Weeping Ash), one of the best known cultivars, widely planted during the Victorian era, it grows vigorously forming an attractive small to medium size tree with mounds of weeping branches.
  • Fraxinus excelsior ‘Skyline’.


  1. ^ a b Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-220013-9.
  2. ^ Den virtuella floran: Fraxinus excelsior distribution
  3. ^ Mitchell, A. F. (1974). A Field Guide to the Trees of Britain and Northern Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-212035-6
  4. ^ Mitchell, A. F. (1982). The Trees of Britain and Northern Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-219037-0
  5. ^ Mabey, R. (1996). Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson Ltd ISBN 1856193772.

From Trees Mystical World Wide Web

Since ancient times some have believed that the first man was created from the branches and flesh of the Ash tree (and also of the oak). The Ancient Greeks thought that at the beginning of time cloud-ash was produced spawning small melia which came together and resulted in humanity being created. (The oak was thought to produce the first man and the trees themselves were called the first mothers). Perhaps if it can create man this is also why the ash tree was thought traditionally to hold many curative powers.

Stories and legends abound for this tree. Some connected with the supernatural and often with negative energies, whilst others have a root within specific belief systems such as Paganism or Christianity. One mythological belief focuses on when Christianity was brought to Northern Europe, the Scandinavian gods of the North were obviously affected by this new belief. They were transformed into witches and the ash became their favourite tree. In ‘Phantastes’ Dr. George MacDonald tells how the ‘Forest of Fairyland’ was a place visited by witches. There was an ash tree in the forest which was thought to be an ogre, or at least people thought that evil forces dwelled there, and on ‘Walpurgis Night’ it was said that the witches ate the tree buds so that there would not be any on ‘St. John’s Night’. To keep ‘Askafora’ (Eschenfrau) or wife of the ash content an offering had to be given on Ash Wednesday. She was seen as a particularly evil spirit who wrought havoc when not satisfied with events around her.

The seeds of the Ash have long been used in love divination. If the seeds did not appear on a tree the owner was thought to have been unlucky in love, or a future venture would not be successful. By repeating the following traditional English (UK) verse the inquirer would soon have the identity of their intended revealed:

Love Divination Verse
‘Even-ash, even-ash, I pluck thee,
This night my own true love to see,
Neither in his bed nor in the bare,
But in the clothes he does every day wear.’

In the North of England (UK) it was thought that by a woman placing an Ash leaf in the left shoe, she would be fortunate enough to meet her future spouse immediately.

Another traditional English (UK) verse was held to have the power to reveal weather information:

Weather Changes
‘If the ash leaf appears before the oak,
Then there’ll be a very great soak.
But if the oak comes before the ash,
Then expect a very small splash.’

To ward off negative energies and personal misfortune the following English (UK) verse was thought to aid those who came upon an Ash tree and picked a leaf from a branch:

‘Even ash, I do thee pluck,
Hoping thus to meet good luck.
If no good luck I get from thee,
I shall wish thee on the tree.’

Having found a leaf by chance, success and happiness would be doubly assured if the Ash leaf was kept upon the person or worn openly.

A wonderful Norwegian love story tells of ‘Axel Thordsen and Fair Valdborg’. The two were never a couple in life but upon death they were buried close to each other. An Ash tree was planted on each grave. As the trees grew to the same height the branches inclined and became entwined.

In the story of ‘Lay le Fraine’, that translates as the ‘Adventures of the Ash’ or the ‘Lay of the Ash Tree’, a twin is deserted by the mother. It is left at the door of an abbey underneath an Ash tree. This French romantic tale says that the infant is found by as abbess. She called the child ‘Le Fraine’ because of it being found under the tree.

Another legend from Scandinavia tells of how a giant once gave an Ash tree to a community. He proceeded to instruct them to place the Ash tree on a church altar. The giant told them that he wanted to destroy the church. Rather than follow this perhaps sacrilegious instruction, the people deposited the Ash tree on top of a grave. It immediately burst into flames.

There is no Ash tree in the churchyard of ‘Nortorf, Holstein’. According to Saxon legend one may eventually grow into a tree, as each year an Ash shoot appears. On ‘New Year’s Night’ each year it is cut down by a white horseman riding a white horse, and every time a black horseman with a black steed tries to stop him. The white horseman thought fends off the black horseman’s challenge. It is said that the tree will grow when the black horseman succeeds in challenging his opposite. When this happens the tree will be tall enough for a horse to be tied underneath it, and so the king will be able to fight a mighty battle with his army. The horse under the tree will belong to the king and will stand there all the way through the battle. If this happens, the king will become more powerful than before.

Another English (UK) belief attached to the winged seeds is that is these do not appear then a reigning monarch will die.

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