Appearance▲ Back to topIt is a large deciduous tree growing to 20–35 m tall with a trunk up to 2 m diameter, with a tall, domed crown. The bark is smooth and pale grey on young trees, becoming thick and vertically fissured on old trees. The shoots are stout, greenish-grey, with jet black buds . The leaves are 20–35 cm long, pinnate compound, with 7-13 leaflets, the leaflets 3–12 cm long and 0.8–3 cm broad, sessile on the leaf rachis, and with a serrated margin. The leaves are often among the last to open in spring, and the first to fall in autumn if an early frost strikes; they have no marked autumn colour, often falling dull green. The flowers open before the leaves, the female flowers being somewhat longer than the male flowers; they are dark purple, and without petals, and are wind-pollinated. Both male and female flowers can occur on the same tree, but it is more common to find all male and all female trees; a tree that is all male one year can produce female flowers the next, and similarly a female tree can become male. The fruit is a samara 2.5-4.5 cm long and 5–8 mm broad, often hanging in bunches through the winter; they are often called 'ash keys'. If the fruit is gathered and planted when it is still green and not fully ripe, it will germinate straightaway, however once the fruit is brown and fully ripe, it will not germinate until 18 months after sowing .
European Ash rarely exceeds 250 years of age. However there are numerous ones estimated between 200 and 250 years old and there are a couple over 250. The largest is in Clapton Court, England and is 9 m in girth. There are several examples over 4.5 metres in Derbyshire alone.
Habitat▲ Back to topAsh occurs on a wide range of soil types, but is particularly associated with basic soils on calcareous substrates. The most northerly ashwood in Britain is on limestone at Rassal, Wester Ross, latitude 57.4278 N.
A number of Lepidoptera use the species as a food source. See Lepidoptera which feed on ashes.
Uses▲ Back to topThe resilience and rapid growth made it an important resource for smallholders and farmers. It was probably the most versatile wood in the countryside with wide-ranging uses. Until World War II the trees were often coppiced on a ten year cycle to provide a sustainable source of timber for fuel and poles for building and woodworking.
The colour of the wood ranges from creamy white through light brown, and the heart wood may be a darker olive-brown. Ash timber is hard, tough and very hard-wearing, with a coarse open grain and a density of 710 kg per cubic meter. It lacks oak's natural resistance to decay, and is not as suitable for posts buried in the ground. Because of its high flexibility, shock-resistance and resistance to splitting, ash wood is the traditional material for bows, tool handles, especially for hammers and axes, tennis rackets and snooker cue sticksand it was extensively used in the construction of early aircraft. Ash is valuable as firewood because it burns well even when 'green' . Ash was coppiced, often in hedgerows, and evidence in the form of some huge boles with multiple trunks emerging at head height can still be seen in parts of Britain. In Northumberland, crab and lobster pots sometimes known as 'creeves' by local people are still made from ash sticks. Because of its elasticity European Ash wood was commonly used for walking sticks. Poles were cut from a coppice and the ends heated in steam. The wood could then be bent in a curved vise to form the handle of the walking stick. The light colour and attractive grain of ash wood make it popular in modern furniture such as chairs, dining tables, doors and other architectural features and wood flooring, although the wood is often popularly stained jet black.
Ash is the only wood used for the manufacture of hurleys, referred to as hurls in parts of Leinster and known as a camán in Irish, the timber sticks used in the game of hurling in Ireland. Hurleys are manufactured from the butt log and from trees ideally of a diameter at breast height of approximately 25-30 centimetres. Only fast grown, straight and knot free ash can be used for this purpose. Due to the lack of available ash in Ireland, over 75% of the timber needed to produce the 350,000 hurleys required for the game annually must be imported, mostly from eastern European countries. The importance of ash timber to the game of hurling is reflected in the fact that the game is referred to all over Ireland as "The Clash Of The Ash".
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