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Tree of the Week – White Ash (Fraxinus americana)

White Ash (Fraxinus americana)

It feels almost odd to examine the White Ash in its apparent post-mortem state in light of the onslaught of Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). A few years from now, we may have no tree to even identify as a White Ash let alone the other 45+ species in this genus. Nevertheless, it is good for us to appreciate the White Ash and its associate species so that we can learn to be attuned to the rest of the trees in our city and beyond.

Ash Trees in the Hamilton Area

Hamilton is home to quite a few ash trees. In Stoney Creek, 20% of its canopy is estimated to be ash trees. Hamilton in general is sitting at around 9%. The majority of ash trees in Hamilton are white, black, and green ash.
Commonly, I find people who can identify a few maples such as silver maple, norway maple, and Japanese maple but this task is not so easy with ash trees. Ash trees are often quite hard to distinguish one from the other. Green and red ash for example use to be considered separate species but now they are often lumped together as one.

White Ash Tree

Ash Tree Identification

When it comes to identifying an ash tree in general, we should note that its branches are always directly opposite each other (usually only Ash, Maple, Dogwood, and Horsechestnut fall in this category). If a branch shoots off to the left of a stem then in the same spot will another branch shoot off to the right.

In addition, all leaves of ash trees are compound meaning that a single bud will produce multiple little leaves (or leaflets). Usually 7 to 11 leaflets on an ash tree.

Bark of a mature ash usually shows a clear diamond pattern.

Lastly, the tips of branches have a very distinct curve upwards towards the sky, making it easy to identify even in the winter.

Distinctions

White Ash specifically, is quite distinctively pale, or white, on its underside (hence the name white ash). Its compound leaves more often than not have 7 leaflets per leaf whereas other ash trees are usually more diverse. White Ash is best admired now when its leaflets are beginning to turn majestic purples and bronzes as the season changes, other ash trees tend not to get a purple tone to them in the Fall. The diamond pattern on a mature White Ash is more distinct than other ashes but still quite similar to the Green Ash.

Its wood is known to be very strong while being both flexible and lightweight. It is used for everything from equipment handles to baseball bats to furniture (making it a perfect candidate for urban wood utilization). White Ash can grow to about 30m tall at maturity and can historically live to over 150 years old.