Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)

KingdomPlantae
PhylumAnthophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderScrophulariales
FamilyOleaceae
GenusFraxinus (1)
SizeHeight: up to 40 m (2)

Widespread and common (2).

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).

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

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).

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).

This tree is not threatened.

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

For more on British trees see: The Tree Council:
http://www.treecouncil.org.uk
and British Trees.com:
http://www.british-trees.com

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (Feb 2003): http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
  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.