There is one tree species that is common in our woods but is sometimes overlooked. That species is the White Ash (Fraxinus americana L.). This species is both fast-growing and long-lived.
White Ash is a member of the Order Lamiales, the Family Oleaceae, the Subfamily Oleaideae, and the Tribe Oleeae. The generic name, Fraxinus, is either Latin for “ash tree”, because its leaves and bark are ash-colored, or is from the Greek word, phraxis, which is ”hedge”, because the European Ash species were used as hedges. The specific epithet, americana, is Latin for “of America”. Other common names for this species are American Ash, American White Ash, Ash, Biltmore Ash, Biltmore White Ash, Canadian Ash, Canadian White Ash, Cane Ash, and Smallseed White Ash.
DESCRIPTION OF THE WHITE ASH
Height: Their height is 50-125 feet.
Diameter: Their diameter at 4½ feet is 2-7 feet.
Crown: The crown is open or dense, symmetrical, conical, oval or oblong, and rounded or pyramidal. It is taller and narrower in the forest and is broader and more rounded in the open.
Trunk: The trunk is tall, clear, and straight. It may be divided or forked. The older trees have buttressed bases.
Bark: The bark is tight and thick. The young bark is smooth and gray. Eastern Cottontail Rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus J.A. Allen) and North American Beaver (Castor canadensis Kuhl) often eat the young bark. The older bark is light gray to gray-brown with a red tinge and has an interwoven diamond-shaped pattern of sharp, broad, forking, corduroy ridges and deep furrows.
Branches: The few branches upon the young trees are long, straight, and surge upward. These young branches resemble candelabras. This shape minimizes heavy ice and snow loads.
The branches upon the older trees spread outward. The lower branches are more pendulous.
Twigs: The twigs are stout, rounded, hairless, and glabrous. They are gray, tan, medium brown, gray-green, green-brown, or purplish. Its pith is both white and continuous. White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmermann) often browse upon these twigs.
Buds: The terminal buds are about ¼ inches long, about ½ inches wide, obtuse, blunt, rounded, gray brown to red-brown, and appear powdery. It has 4-6 leathery, imbricate, and appressed scales. The outer 2 scales are acute and keeled. These buds resemble “bishop’s caps”.
The lateral buds are smaller and are more rounded than the terminal buds. The top lateral buds are located at the base of the terminal buds. All lateral buds are set in deep U- or V-shaped notches located in the upper edges of the semicircular leaf scars.
Leaf Scars: The leaf scars are slightly raised, giving the twig a knobby or warty appearance. These leaf scars have numerous bundle scars.
Leaves: The leaves are deciduous, opposite, and odd-pinnately compound. The entire leaf is about 8-15 inches long. The leaves arrive late in the spring. These leaves are the largest of all of the Ash leaves.
The stems (petioles) are stout, smooth, glabrous, and grooved. There are no stipules at the base.
Each leaf has 5-13 leaflets. There is 1 terminal leaflet and several paired lateral leaflets. Each leaflet is about 2-6 inches long; about 1-3 inches wide; and is elliptic, oblong-lanceolate, or ovate. It has a pointed apex, a rounded or tapered base, and smooth or finely toothed margins. They are smooth, glossy, and dark green on the top, and are gray-white to pale green and slightly hairy on the bottom. White-tailed Deer often eat these leaves.
In the fall, these leaves may turn dull gray, yellow, gold, bronze, brown, orange, red, maroon, or dark purple. All of these colors may appear upon the same leaf. These leaves often turn color before the leaves of other tree species. In dry years, there may be no leaf colors.
These leaves fall off early. The leaflets of the leaf fall off individually. The fallen leaves, which are high in sugars and in nitrogen, provide rich humus for the Earthworms (Suborder Lumbricina).
Flowers: The flowers are dioecious with separate male and female trees. They are arranged in glabrous, dense, dark purple, panicled clusters. These clusters later expend and turn yellow. They are located upon the shoots from previous seasons. Flowering season is usually April to June, often before the leaves emerge.
Each flower is ¼ inch long; has a 4-lobed, bell-shaped or deeply lobed calyx; and has no corolla. The male flowers have 2-3 stamens. There are often more male flowers than there are female flowers. The female flowers have a 2-celled ovary.
These flowers are wind-pollinated. This pollen can travel only a few hundred feet. The pollen is often dispersed over 3-5 days. The females are receptive to this pollen for about 1 week.
Fruits: The fruits are 1-seeded keys (samaras). Each key is 1-3 inches long, about ¼ inch wide, narrowly obovate, pointed at both ends, and is shaped like a canoe paddle. It has a plump, tubular, cylindrical seed case at 1 end and an elongated flattened wing at the other end. This wing may extend a little along the seed. Its fall colors change from green or red to yellow-tan to light or dark brown. Fruiting season is August to November.
These fruits are borne in large, dense, drooping 5-8 inch long, panicled clusters of 10-100 keys. They often persist throughout the winter and into the following spring. Good seed crops are produced every 3 years.
These seeds are scattered by the wind. Some may travel up to 450 feet. They often spin when they fall to the ground.
Before they can germinate, these seeds need cold stratification for 2-4 months. The seeds can remain dormant upon the ground for up to 7 years.
These seeds attract many animal species. Some of them include Finches (Family Fringillidae), Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis L.), and other Songbirds (Suborder Passeri). They also attract Northern Bobwhite Quails (Colinus virginianus L.), Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo L.), Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa L.), and Rodents (Order Rodentia).
Roots: Its roots are taproots. They are deep in porous soils and are shallow in rocky areas.
Wood: Its wood is hard, strong, tough, durable, resilient, heavy, straight-grained, and ring-porous. It is not durable when in contact with soil. It is also odorless and tasteless. The heartwood is brown to dark brown and the sapwood is yellow-white. When seasoned, the wood is flexible and elastic. When dead, the wood is weak and unstable.
Habitats: Its habitats consist of rich moist to dry upland or lowland areas. They do not inhabit swamp forests. They prefer Oak (Genus Quercus)-Hickory (Genus Carya) forests to Beech (Fagus grandifolia Ehrhart)-Maple (Genus Acer) forests. They grow solitarily or in small groups. They are not a dominant forest species. They are a pioneer species.
They are highly shade tolerant when young. They are moderately shade tolerant when older.
Range: Its range consists of most of southeastern Canada, excluding the Gaspe Peninsula and the northern shore of Lake Superior, and most of the eastern U.S. as far west as the Great Plains, excluding southern Florida, the south Atlantic Coast, and the Gulf Coast. They are the most common native Ash species in America.
Commercial Uses of the White Ash:
White Ashes have a number of uses. Its biggest use is lumber. The wood is used for tool handles, wagon frames and wagon wheel spokes, furniture, paneling, flooring, veneer, agricultural implements, musical instruments, and sporting goods. Some of the sporting goods include baseball bats, hockey sticks, tennis rackets, polo mallets, snowshoes, skis, oars, and canoe paddles. It is a shock-resistant wood, especially the wood upon the smaller trees.
White Ash wood makes good firewood, even if the wood is green and unseasoned. It also splits easily. This firewood ranks high, along with Oaks and Hickories. Its value as firewood may be due to its low moistures content and its flammable oils in the sap. However, the burned wood yields high amounts of ash.
White Ash also has other uses. Its bark is also made into a yellow dye. It is planted as an ornamental, as a shelterbelt, and as erosion control.
Medicinal Uses of the White Ash:
White Ash had some medicinal uses. Both the Native Americans and the early European settlers harvested the barks of the trunks, the stems, and the roots in the spring and in the fall. They also harvested the leaves in the growing season and the seeds in the late summer and in the early fall.
Bark tea was used as a purgative, an emetic, a diuretic, a diaphoretic, an astringent, a cathartic, and a tonic. The bark was chewed and used as a poultice for sores. The bark was used as a wash for treating sores and itching skin. The seeds were used as a mild purgative, a diuretic, and an aphrodisiac. The sap from the burning wood was once believed to cure cancer.
Many Native Americans and European settlers believed that White Ash repelled Rattlesnakes. Many of them stuffed their shoes, boots, and leggings with the leaves whenever they walked in the woods. A decoction of the buds and the bark were used for treating snakebites. However, there is no medical evidence to support those beliefs.
White Ash contains resins, an alkaloid, the glucoside fraxin, and mannitol. White Ash was listed in the National Formulary (1916-1926). The bark is still sold to some pharmaceutical companies.
White Ash has a few minor toxic properties. The pollen can cause hay fever and contact dermatitis.
Threats to the White Ash:
When the European settlers initially arrived, White Ashes faced only a few threats. Now they face a number of threats. They cannot tolerate droughts or prolonged flooding. They are susceptible to fire damage. They are sensitive to ozone, air pollution, and acid rain.
White Ashes are susceptible to diseases like Leaf Spot, Cankers, Rusts, Heartwood Rot, and Ash Yellow Dieback. The last disease is caused by environmental stress. They are susceptible to insect pests such as Forest Tent Caterpillars (Malacosoma disstria), Green Fruitworms (Lithophane laticinerea), Oystershell Scales (Lepidosaphes ulmi), Black-headed Ash Sawflies (Terthida cardigera), Brown-headed Ash Sawflies (Tomostethus multicinctus), Ash Borer Moths (Podosesia syringae), Ash Flowergall Mites (Aceria fraxinivorus), and Fall Webworms (Hyphantria cunea).
Unfortunately, there is now a new threat that is by far the most devastating of all. That would be the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).
Emerald Ash Borer:
Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire) was first discovered in 2002 in Detroit. However, it may have been in American for a number of years. It came from eastern Asia via the Great Lakes.
The Emerald Ash Borer is a bright, metallic green Beetle (Order Coleoptera, Family Buprestidae, Subfamily Agrilinae, and Tribe Agrilini)). These Beetles lay about 70-300 eggs within the tree bark crevices and layers. These eggs hatch in 1-2 weeks.
The creamy white larvae bore under the outer bark to the inner bark (phloem), the cambium, and the sapwood (xylem). The larvae will spend their winter under the bark eating and digging S- or Z-shaped tunnels.
These tunnels disrupt the flow of water and nutrients, which girdles the tree. Symptoms include crown dieback, epicormic branching and sucker sprouts, and vertical bark splitting and flaking. This causes death within 2-4 years.
These larvae grow to 1½ inch long and pupate in the spring. From May to September, they emerge from the bark as adults, leaving 1/8-inch D-shaped holes in the bark.
The adults are about ½ inch long and about 1/8 inch wide. They eat the leaves and can fly up to ½ mile from their tree. They mate about 7-10 days after emerging and lay their eggs. The males only live about 2 weeks and the females only live about 3 weeks.
Although the Asia Ash trees are resistant to the EAB, all American Fraxinus species are susceptible. The EAB is now in found in about 15 American states and in 2 Canadian provinces. Its range is presently expanding.
Attempts to contain this pest have not been very successful. Methods used consist of cutting and burning wide bands of these trees and quarantining of nursery stock and firewood. Injecting insecticides into the roots or the trunk would also harm other species. Biological controls are a possibility but can backfire. It is feared that the EAB will someday rival the Dutch Elm Disease or the Chestnut Blight.
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