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The Ash

UK Garden Centre - Information about the Ash tree

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Family Oleaceae
Fraxinus excelsior

So commanding, yet at the same time so light and graceful, does a well-grown Ash appear, that it has been called the “Venus of the Woods”. This may appear to be rather too close an approach to the “Lady of the Woods” (Birch), but it well expresses the characteristics of the two. They are both exceedingly graceful, but the beauty of the Birch is that of the nymph, whilst that of the Ash is the combined grace and strength of the goddess.
It is in a meadow, or on the outskirts of a wood, or in the hedgerow, where it is not hemmed in by other trees, and where both soil and atmosphere are moist and cool; where it has had elbow-room to reach its long, graceful arms upwards and outwards, and to cover them with the plumy circlets of long leaves, that the Ash is able to do credit to the name bestowed upon it.
Before the reign of iron and steel was so universal, Ash timber was in demand for many uses where the metals have now supplanted it.
It was then grown as a hedgerow tree far more widely than is now the case. No doubt the noxious drip and shade of the Ash have had much to do with this abandonment of it, for few things can live beneath it – a condition which quickly exhausts and drains the soil, and so starves out other plants. Although it thus drains the surface soil, it is not dependent upon these upper layers for food, for its much-branched roots extend very deeply in the porous soils it prefers.
The Ash has a preference for the northern and eastern sides of hills, where the atmosphere is moist and cool, and the soil deep and porous, for it loves free and not stagnant moisture for its roots. A well-grown Ash attains a height of eighty to one hundred feet.
The bark of both trunk and branches in pale grey, and it is supposed that this is the origin of the tree’s English name. On examining the leafless branches in early spring, two things will strike the observer – the blackness of the big opposite leaf-buds, and the stoutness of the twigs. This latter fact is due to the great size of the leaves they will have to support, which implies a considerable strain in wind or rain.
What are generally regarded as the leaves of the Ash are only leaflets, though they are equal in size to the leaves of most of our trees. The largest of the leaflets is about three inches in length, and there are from four to seven – mostly six – pairs, and an odd terminal one, to each leaf. They are lance-shaped with toothed edges. They appear rather late and are amongst the earliest to depart.
The flowers of the Ash are very poor affairs, for they have neither calyx nor corolla, though their association in large clusters makes them fairly conspicuous as they droop from the sides of the branches in April or May. Stamens and pistils are borne by the same or separate flowers, and both kinds or one only may be found on the same tree. The pistil is a greenish-yellow pear-shaped body, and the stamens are very dark purple.
The flowers are succeeded by bunches of “keys” – each one, when ripe, a narrow-oblong scale, with a notch at one end and a seed lying within at the other. The correct name of these “keys” is samaras. Examining a bunch of these “keys” one is struck by the fact that they all have a little twist in the wing, which causes the “key” to spin steadily on the wind and reach the earth seed-end first. They are, therefore, sometimes known as “spinners”. These are ripe in October; but though the trees produce seed nearly every year after the fortieth, the observer may chance to look at a dozen Ashes before one is discovered that bears a seed. The reason for this is the fact that some trees have no female blossoms. The seeds do not germinate until the second spring after they are sown.
The Ash is not one of the long-lived trees, its natural span being about two hundred years, but its wood is regarded as best between the ages of thirty and sixty years. So strong and elastic is the Ash timber when taken from young trees, that it is claimed it will bear a greater strain than any other European timber of equal thickness. Much of the Ash-wood obtained from Ash-coppice, where only small diameters are needed, is used for the fashioning or oars, axe and hammer shafts, and similar purpose.
Useful also in many agricultural operations. Cattle and horses are fond of Ash leaves, which were formerly much used for fodder, but it is said that to indulge cows in this food it is fatal to the production of good butter from their milk.


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