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The Tall and Handsome Flowering Ash Tree.

Updated on September 29, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.

The common ash Fraxinus excelsior is a tall handsome and somewhat elegant tree. The European or common ash is also referred to as the flowering ash in the U.K. There are 50+ species of ash in the Genus Fraxinus, the Latin name for the ash tree. There are also many cultivars that have been raised for gardens and parks adding greatly to the number that may be encountered. However, this species,the common ash is the only native species to occur in Britain. They belong to the olive family the Oleacaea and Britain, has but one other species, of this family which is native to Britain- the privet, which more of a shrub than a tree.

Ash is steeped in folklore and mythology of many countries. It was said that the ash tree was the only tree in the garden of Eden that the serpent would not go near, for even if just the shadow of the tree fell upon the serpent it would shrivel up and die. From this belief ash staves were carried that was thought to protect the walker from the most snake infested places.

The ash is a tall elegant tree. Photograph by D.A.L.
The ash is a tall elegant tree. Photograph by D.A.L.

Basic Biology of the Ash Tree.

The tree is capable of reaching the height of 20-35 meters. The species name excelsior means tall. The light grey bark of the tree when young becomes browner, rough and fissured with age. The fissures becoming deeper as the tree gets older.

Components of the common ash tree

Billedrafnorden {1800,s}
Billedrafnorden {1800,s}

Dryad's saddle growing on the old trunk of an ash tree


The leaves of this tree are superficially like those of the Rowan tree { see my hub ROWAN A CHARMING NAME AND A CHARMING TREE}. However, when seen side by side those of this species have much larger leaflets which can number between four to eight pairs opposite to each other with a terminal leaflet. The leaflets are lance shaped and toothed about 3 inches {6-7cm} long. This gives the leaves a loose feathery appearance and the canopy of the tree an open airy habit which allows light down to the floor of the wood or grassland.

Ash Trees

The foliage of the ash allows an open airy canopy that allows light to penetrate.Photograph by D.A.L.
The foliage of the ash allows an open airy canopy that allows light to penetrate.Photograph by D.A.L.

The most characteristic part of the twigs in winter is the thick sooty black buds at the tip of the twigs. close observation will reveal that there are three buds to each group. Two small side buds and a larger terminal bud. They have a velvet appearance about them. The two smaller buds contain the flowers while the larger bud contains the foliage. Nature has deemed that the flowers of this tree open before the leaves appear. This allows the breeze free access to the flowers which aids pollination.

These flowers may be male or female, in fact both genders may appear on the same twig. However, studies have revealed that some trees may produce all male flowers or all female flowers. To confuse the issue even more some trees may produce all male flowers one year and then in the following year produce all female flowers. The female flowers are reddish and a little more upright in habit than their greenish slightly drooping male counterparts. The flowers are small and inconspicuous compared with other tree flowers such as those of the horse chestnut or Rowan.

After fertilisation the oblong ovaries develops into a thick seed chamber which has a long strap -shaped wing. These seed chambers {samara} develop into pendulous bunches which are commonly referred to as ash keys. They were said to resemble the bunch of keys carried by Medieval jailers.

The samamra's, the fruit of ash that are collectively known as ash keys. Photograph by D.A.L.
The samamra's, the fruit of ash that are collectively known as ash keys. Photograph by D.A.L.

 They are green at first {see photograph} then becoming brown as they mature. They abide on the tree throughout the winter and are a valuable source of food for one of our most colourful small birds the bullfinch. The following spring they become unattached from the parent tree and aided by the wings of the fruit  are carried by the wind, often great distances from their departure point. They germinate readily and grow in almost any soil conditions.

ASH WOOD---as a timber it is a valuable commodity. It is a quick growing tree which has a tough yet flexible wood. It is heavy, strong, hard and takes a high polish. It is favoured because it does not shrink very much as it seasons, thus there is less waste. The wood of ash has been used for more purposes than the wood of any other tree. 

Because of its elasticity it was used to produce long bows {along with the wood of the yew} that were once the dominant weapon during England's past. It has been used to produce handles of strong hard working tools such as the pick axe.It was utilised in the making of railway carriages, to make ladders, oars, carts, the shafts of carts to be pulled by heavy horses, the list is almost endless. The logs of ash make excellent fuel, burning fiercely without producing the smoke associated with most wood burned on fires. The ash that remains after it has burned is a good source of potash for gardens.

Ash trees

Ash trees are often planted on the grass verges of roadsides to enhance otherwise bare places.Photograph by D.A.L.
Ash trees are often planted on the grass verges of roadsides to enhance otherwise bare places.Photograph by D.A.L.

Medicinal Uses.

Ash has long been associated as a tree that spiritually connects the inner and outer world, above and below, far and near, male and female.

The leaves have a diuretic and purgative properties and have been used for the treatment of gout and rheumatism. It was advised that the leaves be collected during June and well dried, powdered and kept in airtight containers. seeds were also used in medicinal preparations and they were regarded in high esteem for the treatment of flatulence. They were gathered when ripe and stored away to be used when needed through the winter months.

The bark and the bark of the root was also employed in medicine. However, ash preparations are not recommended for home use. The preparations need to produced by professional herbalists or commercially. They can be bought ready for use in good health shops.

November 2012--Ash die back hits the UK.

In October 2012 the Woodland Trust UK, revealed fears that a new disease was considered to be a great threat to the UK's ash trees. the disease commonly referred to as Ash die back has the scientific name of Chalara fraxinea. this disease has already killed thousands of trees in European countries such as Denmark.

Some woodlands in the UK are comprised only of ash trees so the disease is devastating news for organisations such as the Woodland Trust, the Forestry Commission, Nurseries, and tree growers. The ash tree as previously mentioned is an important biodiversity tree and its timber is used for making furniture, charcoal and other products.

The disease has been brought to the UK via infected, imported trees. Over the weekend of 26th/27th of October The Woodland Trust met with the Secretary of State Owen Patterson to further the pressure to ban the import of ash trees in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease. The Woodland Trust also called for an emergency summit bringing together representatives from all areas of Forestry, Plant health and conservation. the Woodland Trust would play a key role in any task force created.

During October the Woodland Trust confirmed that the disease had been discovered in both mature and ancient woodland and woodland creation areas on their estate at Pound Farm in Suffolk {southern England}. In light of this they asked for Government scientists to give urgent and clear advise on how woodland owners were to deal with this threat.

In November 2012 the Woodland Trust devised a three point plan in order to cope with the disease and its spread. The aims of the plan is to -1,bringing scientists and members of the public together to monitor and protect the UK's woodlands and tree. 2- to invest in nurseries so that trees grown are disease free and only controlled and monitored trees are planted. 3--keeping woodlands alive--by means of investing in woodlands to keep them free from diseases.

On the 7th of November 2012 DEFRA confirmed that the disease had spread to six counties of England these are Bedfordshire {southern England} Suffolk {southern England} Berkshire {southern England} Lincolnshire {eastern England}, Yorkshire {northern England}, and Northumberland {northern England}.

This was revealed after the largest national survey of its kind where Government Bodies surveyed 129,000 hectares across the country. the sites now affected number 115. there are 15 nurseries affected, 39 planting sites and 61 in the wider environment.

Watch this space for further developments.

Open Government License v1.0
Open Government License v1.0 | Source

May 2013 Ash die back a threat to rare lichens

Dozens of rare lichens are under threat and could become extinct according to Plantlife experts. { { Plantlife is a leading conservation body in the UK, that is dedicated to preserving Britain's flora}. Some thirty percent of UK's lichens occur on ash, 536 species in all. Of these , the populations of 84 are considered by Plantlife to be vulnerable or under threat of extinction.

Plantlife is working with UK Government, on ways of tackling ash die back and protecting the rare species of lichen that the ash supports.

One species of Lichen the Red-eyed shingle lichen Pannaria rubiginosa, grows on a single Ash tree in Wales, so the threat to such species is obvious.

November 2013 Ash die back-UK

In just one year, ash die back has been recorded in over 600 locations across the country. With over a hundred and twenty million ash trees in woods and forest across the UK, and another twelve million in our cherished hedgerows the number one priority of the Woodland Trust is to tackle the pest and diseases that threaten our native trees.

One year on what is the Trust doing ? At the heart of what they are doing, is knowing the source of any saplings that are newly planted as well as the source of any seeds they purchase. From 2014 all the trees and saplings that they plant or sell will have been sourced or grown in the UK. This will remove the risks of importing more problems. Next will be to develop a number of seed orchards to produce a varied genetic mix of native trees and to give rare native species a fighting chance in the future.


Ash die back update April 2014

The Living Ash project is asking the public to report information about the health of ash trees. They are specially interested in those that show some tolerance to the disease that is threatening Britain's second most common broad-leaved tree-Chalara ash dieback. The Living Ash project aims to identify trees that are tolerant to ash dieback.

There are an estimated 120 million ash trees in Britain's woodlands and hedgerows. Evidense from Denmark where the disease is more prevalent indicates that approximately 1% of trees show good tolerance to the disease . While tolerant trees may regenerate naturally in some woodlands,identifying tolerant trees is urgently needed so as to ensure a genetically diverse and resilient population for future woodland planting.identifying tolerant trees, and including their progeny in breeding programmes run by the Living Ash Project. will enable production of resilient trees.

Working with the University of East Anglia's Adapt Group,a new function has been added to the Ash Tag app. by logging into the site at ,where anyone can report in the health of an ash tree,not just this year, but over the next few years.

The Living Ash project was set up in 2013-The project website can be visited at http://


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    • Eco-Lhee profile image


      6 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Great hub, well written and beautiful pictures!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      B, I hope you find some inspiration always a joy to read your work when you have been. Your welcome here anytime.

    • Joy56 profile image


      9 years ago

      Lovely i like the photos and the information, will be coming back to be inspired, just looking through lots of your hubs

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi darski, thank you for being the first to visit and for your usual kind comment. Take care of you and yours.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      9 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Wonderful and beautiful hub, it looks like mushrooms were growing on the side of the tree, I have never seen that before, of course you live in a climate that rains often. I enjoy the thought of the ying and yang...thank you for sharing...your fan and friend...


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