Fraxinus //, English name ash, is a genus of flowering plants in the olive and lilac family, Oleaceae. It contains 45–65 species of usually medium to large trees, mostly deciduous, though a few subtropical species are evergreen. The genus is widespread across much of Europe, Asia, and North America.
|Scientific classification |
The tree's common English name, "ash", traces back to the Old English æsc which relates to the Proto-Indo-European for the tree, while the generic name originated in Latin from a Proto-Indo-European word for birch. Both words are also used to mean "spear" in their respective languages as the wood is good for shafts. The leaves are opposite (rarely in whorls of three), and mostly pinnately compound, simple in a few species. The seeds, popularly known as "keys" or "helicopter seeds", are a type of fruit known as a samara. Most Fraxinus species are dioecious, having male and female flowers on separate plants but gender in ash is expressed as a continuum between male and female individuals, dominated by unisexual trees. With age, ash may change their sexual function from predominantly male and hermaphrodite towards femaleness; if grown as an ornamental and both sexes are present, ashes can cause a considerable litter problem with their seeds. Rowans or mountain ashes have leaves and buds superficially similar to those of true ashes, but belong to the unrelated genus Sorbus in the rose family.
- Section Dipetalae
- Fraxinus anomala Torr. ex S.Watson – singleleaf ash
- Fraxinus dipetala Hook. & Arn. – California ash or two-petal ash
- Fraxinus quadrangulata Michx. – blue ash
- Fraxinus trifoliata
- Section Fraxinus
- Fraxinus angustifolia Vahl – narrow-leafed ash
- Fraxinus excelsior L. – European ash
- Fraxinus holotricha Koehne
- Fraxinus mandschurica Rupr. – Manchurian ash
- Fraxinus nigra Marshall – black ash
- Fraxinus pallisiae Wilmott – Pallis' ash
- Fraxinus sogdiana Bge
- Section Melioides sensu lato
- Fraxinus chiisanensis
- Fraxinus cuspidata Torr. – fragrant ash
- Fraxinus platypoda
- Fraxinus spaethiana Lingelsh. – Späth's ash
- Section Melioides sensu stricto
- Fraxinus albicans Buckley – Texas ash
- Fraxinus americana L. – white ash or American ash
- Fraxinus berlandieriana DC. – Mexican ash
- Fraxinus caroliniana Mill. – Carolina ash
- Fraxinus latifolia Benth. – Oregon ash
- Fraxinus papillosa Lingelsh. – Chihuahua ash
- Fraxinus pennsylvanica Marshall – green ash
- Fraxinus profunda (Bush) Bush – pumpkin ash
- Fraxinus uhdei (Wenz.) Lingelsh. – Shamel ash or tropical ash
- Fraxinus velutina Torr. – velvet ash or Arizona ash
- Section Ornus
- Fraxinus apertisquamifera
- Fraxinus baroniana
- Fraxinus bungeana DC. – Bunge's ash
- Fraxinus chinensis Roxb. – Chinese ash or Korean ash
- Fraxinus floribunda Wall. – Himalayan manna ash
- Fraxinus griffithii C.B.Clarke – Griffith's ash
- Fraxinus japonica – Japanese ash
- Fraxinus lanuginosa – Japanese ash
- Fraxinus longicuspis
- Fraxinus malacophylla
- Fraxinus micrantha Lingelsh.
- Fraxinus ornus L. – manna ash or flowering ash
- Fraxinus paxiana Lingelsh.
- Fraxinus sieboldiana Blume – Japanese flowering ash
- Section Pauciflorae
- Fraxinus dubia
- Fraxinus gooddingii – Goodding's ash
- Fraxinus greggii A.Gray – Gregg's ash
- Fraxinus purpusii
- Fraxinus rufescens
- Section Sciadanthus
North American native ash tree species are a critical food source for North American frogs, as their fallen leaves are particularly suitable for tadpoles to feed upon in ponds (both temporary and permanent), large puddles, and other water bodies. Lack of tannins in the American ash makes their leaves a good food source for the frogs, but also reduces its resistance to the ash borer. Species with higher leaf tannin levels (including maples and non-native ash species) are taking the place of native ash, thanks to their greater resistance to the ash borer. They produce much less suitable food for the tadpoles, resulting in poor survival rates and small frog sizes.
The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis, EAB) is a wood-boring beetle accidentally introduced to North America from eastern Asia via solid wood packing material in the late 1980s to early 1990s. It has killed tens of millions of trees in 22 states in the United States and adjacent Ontario and Quebec in Canada. It threatens some seven billion ash trees in North America. Research is being conducted to determine if three native Asian wasps that are natural predators of EAB could be used as a biological control for the management of EAB populations in the United States. The public is being cautioned not to transport unfinished wood products, such as firewood, to slow the spread of this insect pest.
The European ash, Fraxinus excelsior, has been affected by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, causing ash dieback in a large number of trees since the mid-1990s, particularly in eastern and northern Europe. The disease has infected about 90% of Denmark's ash trees. At the end of October 2012 in the UK, the Food and Environment Research Agency reported that ash dieback had been discovered in mature woodland in Suffolk; previous occurrences had been on young trees imported from Europe. In 2016, the ash tree was reported as in danger of extinction in Europe.
Ash is a hardwood and is hard, dense (within 20% of 670 kg/m3 for Fraxinus americana, and higher at 710 kg/m3 for Fraxinus excelsior), tough and very strong but elastic, extensively used for making bows, tool handles, baseball bats, hurleys, and other uses demanding high strength and resilience.
Ash is a minor material for electric guitar bodies and, less commonly, for acoustic guitar bodies, known for its bright, cutting edge and sustaining quality. Some Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters are made of ash, (such as Bruce Springsteen's Telecaster on the Born to Run album cover), as an alternative to alder. They are also used for making drum shells.
Woodworkers generally consider Ash "poor cousin" to the other major open pore wood, oak, but it is useful in any furniture application. Ash veneers are extensively used in office furniture. Ash is not used much outdoors due to the heartwood having a low durability to ground contact, meaning it will typically perish within five years. The F. japonica species is favored as a material for making baseball bats by Japanese sporting-goods manufacturers.
Its robust structure, good looks, and flexibility combine to make ash ideal for staircases. Ash stairs are extremely hard-wearing, which is particularly important for treads. Due to its elasticity, ash can also be steamed and bent to produce curved stair parts such as volutes (curled sections of handrail) and intricately shaped balusters. However, a reduction in the supply of healthy trees, especially in Europe, is making ash an increasingly expensive option.
Ash was commonly used for the structural members of the bodies of cars made by carriage builders. Early cars had frames which were intended to flex as part of the suspension system to simplify construction. The Morgan Motor Company of Great Britain still manufacture sports cars with frames made from ash. It was also widely used by early aviation pioneers for aircraft construction.
It lights and burns easily, so is used for starting fires and barbecues, and is usable for maintaining a fire, though it produces only a moderate heat. The two most economically important species for wood production are white ash, in eastern North America, and European ash in Europe. The green ash (F. pennsylvanica) is widely planted as a street tree in the United States. The inner bark of the blue ash (F. quadrangulata) has been used as a source for blue dye.
The leaves of ash are appreciated by cattle, goats, and rabbits. Cut off in the autumn, the branches can be a valuable winter supply for domestic animals.
Mythology and folklore
In Norse mythology, Yggdrasill was often seen as a giant ash tree. Many scholars now agree that in the past, an error had been made in the interpretation of the ancient writings, and that the tree is most likely a European yew (Taxus baccata). This mistake would find its origin in an alternative word for the yew tree in the Old Norse, namely needle ash (barraskr). In addition, ancient sources, including the Eddas, write about a vetgrønster vida, which means "evergreen tree". An ash sheds its leaves in the winter, while yew trees retain their needles. The first man, Ask, was formed from the "ash tree".
Elsewhere in Europe, snakes were said to be repelled by ash leaves or a circle drawn by an ash branch. Irish folklore claims that shadows from an ash tree would damage crops. In Cheshire, ash was said to be used to cure warts and rickets. In Sussex, the ash tree and the elm tree were known as "widowmakers" because large boughs would often drop without warning.
- List of Lepidoptera that feed on ashes
- Æ, the letter ash
- Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen
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- Faulkes, Anthony. Prologue and Gylfagining (2005)
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