Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)

Ash keys
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Ash fact file

Ash description

GenusFraxinus (1)

The ash is one of our tallest native trees. It has a fairly open crown, becoming oval or spherical in shape as it ages (3). The bark is greyish in colour and smooth, becoming fissured as it grows old. This tree is easy to identify in winter by the black buds, which occur in pairs (4). The tiny purple flowers appear before the leaves and occur in male and female clusters (4), they do not have petals or sepals(3). Ash is one of the last trees to produce leaves in spring; the compound leaves are pinnate, with 7-13 toothed oval-shaped leaflets(4). The elongate, winged fruits hang in clusters, they are initially green in colour, but eventually become brown (3).

Height: up to 40 m (2)

Ash biology

The ash flowers in April and May (2). The male flowers do not release pollen until after the styles of the female flowers belonging to the same tree have ceased to be receptive; this helps to avoid self-fertilisation (3). Ashes grow at an extremely fast rate until 50 years of age; after this point they cease to increase in height. They first begin to produce flowers and seeds after they reach 30 years of age (3).

Ash wood is valued for its fast growth, strength and elasticity; it has been put to a wide range of uses and is still used to make hockey sticks, billiard cues and oars, as well as walking sticks, for its ability to withstand shock. The ancient technique of coppicing extends the life of the tree; in Suffolk a coppiced ash is estimated to be at least 1,000 years old (5).

Scandinavian mythology holds that the ash was the 'tree of life'; it was believed to have healing powers in Britain, and was widely regarded as a source of magic and mystery. Unfortunately, the mysterious aura of the ash has declined in modern times; it is now commonly viewed as a 'weed tree' due to its rapid colonisation of new areas and fast growth (5).


Ash range

The ash is common throughout Britain and most of the rest of Europe (2).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.

Ash habitat

The ash develops its impressive crown when it grows in damp soil rich in minerals. Main habitats include riverbanks, meadow and valley woodlands, and deciduous woodlands (3).


Ash status

Widespread and common (2).


Ash threats

This tree is not threatened.


Ash conservation

As this species is common and widespread, conservation action is not necessary.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.

Find out more

For more on British trees see: The Tree Council:
and British



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Traditional form of woodland management in which trees are cut close to the base of the trunk. Re-growth occurs in the form of many thin poles. Woodlands are cut in this way on rotation, producing a mosaic of different stages of re-growth.
A plant that sheds its leaves at the end of the growing season.
The individual 'leaf-like' parts of a compound leaf.
In plants, a compound leaf where the leaflets (individual 'leaves') are found on either side of the central stalk.
A floral leaf (collectively comprising the calyx of the flower) that forms the protective outer layer of a flower bud. (See for a fact sheet on flower structure).
An elongated part of the female reproductive organs of a flower that bears the stigma (the receptive area where pollen germinates), usually at its tip. (see for a fact sheet on flower structure)


  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (Feb 2003):
  2. Humphries. C.J., Press, J.R. & Sutton, D.A. (2000) Hamlyn guide to trees of Britain and Europe. Hamlyn, London.
  3. Godet, J. (1986) Collins photographic guide to the trees of Britain and northern Europe- a guide to identification by leaves and needles. William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd, London.
  4. Press, B. (1996) Collins Wild Guide: Trees. Harper Collins Publishers, London.
  5. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.

Image credit

Ash keys  
Ash keys


Laurie Campbell Photography
TD15 1TE
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1289 386 736
Fax: +44 (0) 1289 386 746


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