This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
The Ash is an ancient tree, having been met with in Interglacial beds in Herts and Neolithic beds in Essex. Its range to-day is the North Temperate Zone of Europe except Greece and N. Africa. In Great Britain it is not found in N. Aberdeen, W. Sutherland, the Orkneys, or Shetlands, but elsewhere universally, and it is very largely planted. It ascends to 1350 ft. in Yorks.
The common Ash is now so generally distributed, owing to enclosure and the better maintenance of highways and planting of trees in hedgerows, that it is difficult to distinguish where the Ash is indigenous or not, except where it forms natural woodland - as it does - which shelters a ground flora distinct from either that of the Oak, Hazel, or Beech. As a rule, it is seen most often in the hedgerow to-day, and is a frequent wayside tree.
It is a tall, erect tree, with a leaden-hued bark, which in the main stem is cracked, the young branches being smooth. The branches at first droop down gracefully and then curve upward again, giving it a characteristic habit.
The opposite pinnate compound leaves with prominent leaf-cushions, the black resting buds, and the thick, scarred twigs, with the inconspicuous tufts of flowers, and, finally, the winged seeds or " keys", serve to distinguish the Ash from any other British tree.
The usual height is about 50 ft., but it may reach 100 ft. The trunk is never very thick, rarely exceeding 1 yd. in diameter. In woods it is straight, cylindrical, and unbranched for some distance. In the open the boughs spread out in a radial manner at a distance of 10 ft. from the ground. There is usually a second series of boughs apart from one or two central ones which form a second tier of ascending branches.
The buds! are black, the terminal one large, the blackness being due to hairs which clothe the four scales enclosing the leaves. The twigs are coarse and nodular. The dwarf shoots are rough and leafless, and the leaf cushions are separated by short internodes. The leaves are opposite and in 4 rows, petiolate,2 without stipules. Each leaf possesses 4-6 pairs of sessile opposite leaflets and a terminal leaflet, which are acute and toothed. The bole has a smooth bark at first, but this becomes rough and furrowed at length. It is ashen grey, hence the name. Rounded props occur at the base.
1 The buds are pointed and flattened at the end of the twigs, which are also flattened.
2 The leaf-stalk is furrowed above, and opposite the leaflets are openings to direct the raindrops from the leaflets. Moisture is absorbed by special hairs. The bud-scales are petioles or stalks, with undeveloped leaflets at the apex. The outer ones are thick, furry inside, the second pair furry outside, and on this they are more so.
The flowers are branched and tufted, arising from lateral buds, and are bi- or uni-sexual, and degenerate, without sepals or petals. The bi-sexual flowers stand in the axils of bracts, and consist of 2 stamens, with purple anthers, and a pistil above, with 2 large stigmas on a short style. The female flower resembles these, but the male consists of only 2 stamens. The fruit is a strap-like winged ovary ("keys"), tipped by the style, and contains 1 seed. The flowers appear in April and May. The Ash is a deciduous tree, propagated by seeds.
Photo. A. R. Horwood - Ash (fraxinus Excelsior, L.)
The stigma ripens first, two to four days before the anthers, and the latter open on the inner side. The flowers are small, but, being closely placed, are conspicuous. Honey is secreted at the base of the corolla-tube. The tree is wind-pollinated. The flowers are in bloom early, before the leaves. In this way the pollen can be readily borne away without being impeded by the foliage. The flowers vary in the sexual characters considerably. Some are hermaphrodite or complete. In some there are only rudimentary stamens, in others only a rudimentary pistil, and all stages occur between these conditions and combinations of them. The same tree, or even the same branch, varies in this regard from year to year. The tree is thus unstable in its sexual development.
The fruit is winged at the extremity, and when it falls the wind carries it to some distance.
The Ash is largely a clay-loving or limestone-loving plant, and addicted to a cold clay soil. It is abundant, for instance, on liassic and boulder-clay rock soils.
As a tree, many fungi attack it, e.g. Phytophthora omnivora, Rosellinia ligniaria, Ash canker. It is galled by Phyllocoptes fraxini, Diplosis betularia, Cecidomyia acrophila, C. pavida, and Diplosis fraxi-nella and D. invocata. Other insects live in it, as Eriophyes fraxini, Lucanus cervus, Sinodendron cylindricum, Rhagium inquisitor, Hyle-sinus crenatus, H. fraxini, H. oleiperda, Vespa crabro, Chienaspis salicis, Apterococcus fraxini, Zeuzera aesculi, Prays curtisellus, Bibio ward, Psyllopsis fraxinicola, P. fraxini, Pseudococcus accris.
As a food plant, two beetles, Lytha vesicatoria, Anobium pertinax; Hymenoptera, Tenthredo bipustulata, Allantus tricinctus; Homoptera, Alurodes dubia; several Heteroptera, Calocoris fulvomaculatus, Lygus cervinus, Ortholytus tenellus, Ma/acocoris chlorizans, Loxops coccineus, Psallus variabilis, P. Iepidus; Lepidoptera, Calocampa fraxini, Metro-campa margaritaria, feed upon it.
Fraxinus, Vergil, is the Latin for Ash Tree, and the second Latin name refers to the unsurpassed qualities of the wood. Ash is the modern form of the Old English cesc.
It is called Ache, Aischen, Aishen-tree, Ash, Ash-candles, Ash-chats, Ash-keys, Bird's Tongue, Cats-and-Keys, Cats'-keys, Chats, Culverkeys, Eisch-keys, Esh, Freyn, Ground Ash, Haish, Hertwort, Ketty-keys, Keys, Kite-keys, Locks-and-Keys, Patty Keys, Peter Keys, Shacklers, Urchin Wood Croney. The name Shacklers is given because of the fruit, and to shackle means to rattle.
As to the name Ash-keys, Turner says: "They are called in Englishe ashe Keyes because they hang in bunches after the manner of keyes ".
" Break me a bit o' the Esh for his 'ead, lad, out o' the fence."
In Lincoln, if a man took a newly-cut Esh plant not thicker than his thumb, he might lawfully beat his wife with it.
Much superstition has centred around this common tree. Ruptures and holes in Ash trees were used by the people to pass children through, especially before sunrise, a supposed beneficial proceeding. It was thought to be the Yggdrasil, or Tree of Life, and man, according to the Edda, was derived from it (and the Elm). Hesiod says Jove made the third race of men from Ash. Aeschylus speaks of the fruit of the Ash as the race of men. It was a lightning plant.
" Avoid the Ash, It counts the flash."
Ash rods were used for the cure of diseased sheep, etc. If a cow appears to have been overlooked an Ash twig is twisted round its horns. It was potent against sorcery, the evil eye being so cured in Scotland, and to escape contact with a serpent it would creep into the fire.
" But that which gave more wonder than the rest, Within an Ash a serpent built her nest, And laid her eggs, when once to come beneath The very shadow of an Ash was death."
Gerard, even in his day, relates the fable as to the antipathy of serpents for the Ash. The sap was considered a remedy for serpent bites in Germany. Charms were connected with the leaves.
" If you find an even ash or a four-leafed clover, Rest assured you '11 see your true love ere the day is over."
To strew Ash branches in a field on Ash Wednesday was equal to three days' rain and three days' sun. They were burned to expel serpents. There is a proverb in the Midlands: " If there are no kegs or seeds in the Ash trees there will be no king within the twelve months ".
" Burn ashwood green, 'T is a fire for a queen; Burn ashwood dear, 'T will make a man swear."
In Yorkshire they say: "May your footfall be by the root of an ash". Faggots of Ash were used in the Christmas fire. If the first parings of a child be buried under the roots of an Ash it will be a "top singer". In Leicestershire it was used as a cure for warts.
The wood is tough and elastic, and is used where a light-weight but powerful wood is required, for spears and handles, implements, wheels, etc.
The Ash is planted in copses, and the saplings are used for making packing-cases, hop-poles, walking-sticks, fences, hoops, baskets. The lower part is used for veneering. The leaves have been eaten as fodder. Sugar is derived from the sap. The leaves have been used to adulterate tea. The Ash is laxative and bitter. The keys have been pickled and used in salads.
Essential Specific Characters: 207. Fraxinus excelsior, L. - Tree, with ashen bark, leaves smooth, pinnate, with a terminal leaflet, plants dioecious, no calyx or corolla, stamens in clusters in axils.