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Woody > Fraxinus > Fraxinus excelsior > Fraxinus excelsior

Fraxinus excelsior

European Ash

Origin:  Europe, from Portugal to Russia. The European Ash was named by Carl Linnaeus with excelsior referring to its height.
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Also known as the Common Ash it is considered the most popular of all the ash trees by some. The Ash tree was one of the largest native deciduous trees of Europe, and the Vikings once called it, “the greatest, and the best of all trees”. The easy-to-care-for Ash tree is widely used in major metropolitan areas, but is also very popular among homeowners designing landscapes. The bark on young trees is pale grey and smooth, that changes to vertically fissured once the tree grows older. The foliage is distinctly dark green that changes to yellow in the autumn. Unfortunately, the tree is threatened by the Emerald Ash Borer and Ash dieback, also known as Hymenoscyphus fraxineus.

Michael Pascoe, NDP., ODH., CLT., MSc. (Plant Conservation)


Tree (deciduous)
USDA Hardiness Zone
6a - 6b
Canadian Hardiness Zone
6a - 6b
RHS Hardiness Zone
20 - 30 m
5 - 15 m
Description and Growing Information
Flowering Period
General Description
It is a deciduous medium-sized to large tree with distinct dark green leaves that change to a warm dusty gold in autumn. The bark is smooth, then develops a fine lattice pattern of ridges and fissures as it ages. The flowers are dark purple, without petals and are wind-pollinated. The fruit is a samara that often appears in clusters and persists through the winter.
Being a fast growing, attractive tree it has many uses in the landscape. It is easy to care for making it perfect for home-owners and is suited to urban areas since it is pollution tolerant and easy to transplant.
It requires a large, spacious area as the roots are broad spreading. It prefers very moist soil, full sun and a pH between 4 - 7.
The Ash tree is one of the tallest native trees with a fairly open crown, over time creating an oval or spherical shape.
ID Characteristic
It can be easily distinguished from other Ash trees by its black, velvety buds on grey shoots. The plant has pale green to yellowish brown fruits, and winged samaras with a broad wing encircling each seed case. Fruits hang in clusters in late summer and persist into winter.
The Ash tree is threatened by the Emerald Ash Borer and Ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus). The Emerald Ash Borer is a major problem in North America.
The Ash tree is typically found in a terrestrial habitat. In hardiness zones 5 - 7 the tree enjoys full sun and adequate water. If the tree is planted in hot, dry climates, it may be reduced to the size of a shrub instead of reaching its full potential growth.
Bark/Stem Description
The Ash tree has a smooth bark when young but as the tree matures, it develops a fine lattice pattern of ridges and fissures, but stays the same grey colour.
Flower/Leaf Bud Description
One of the major features of the European ash is its large, black, velvety buds. The buds have 2 - 3 pairs of opposite scales.
Leaf Description
The leaves are opposite, compound, pinnate, and grow 25 - 30 cm long with 7-11 leaflets. The leaflets are sessile, ovate-oblong to ovate-lanceolate, 5 - 9 cm long, 2 - 4 cm wide, and are serrate. They are dark green above and lighter green beneath.
Flower Description
The flowers are a purple, yellow and green colour. They are tiny, bisexual or unisexual with male and female flowers on separate trees. The petals are absent, and the sepals are minute. There are 2 small stamens, and they appear in compact clusters along twigs and at branch tips during May, before the leaves expand.
Fruit Description
The fruits are a pale green and yellow colour. They are slender winged nutlets, also known as samaras, which are 2.5 - 4 cm long with a long wing enclosing the upper third of each cylindrical seed case. The seeds are single, hanging in large clusters. They mature in autumn and persist into winter.
Colour Description
The bark is light grey when young and a dark grey when matured. The branches are greyish brown. The leaves are dark green on top and light green underneath during the spring through the summer. In the autumn, the leaves turn a warm dusty gold. Flowers are a purple, yellow and green combination. The fruit are pale green to yellow.
Texture Description
The tree has a smooth bark texture when young and a ridged bark when mature. The buds on the plant have a smooth and hairy texture.
Notable Specimens
Centre Island Park, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Propagating from seed is the most common method, but requires patience as the ash seedling is very slow to germinate. The first thing to do is to float the seeds in water to see what seeds have an ova (the ones that will sink) and what seeds don’t have an ova (ones that will float). Discard the seeds that float and continue with the propagation process. To speed up the germination process of the seed you must stratify it. Stratifying will replicate winter-summer-winter cycles and hasten the production of hormones which encourage germination. The best way to propagate from cuttings is to find a sucker located towards the base of the tree. Trim the sucker and transplant it in a well-drained pot with good soil and mulch. The final way to propagate is a root graft. To do this, it requires an ash tree root and a cutting or sucker. Cut the root so that a piece of bark peels away from the tree, insert the cutting, and wrap both with tree paper. Plant the root in soil up to the cut mark, and grow.
Ethnobotanical Uses (Disclaimer)
Ash is economically a valuable European tree. It is coppiced as a source of timber for fuel and woodworking. It is used for bows, tool handles, modern furniture, wood flooring, walking sticks, hammer and axe handles and tennis rackets and snooker cues. It was also used in the construction of early aircraft frames.
Kershaw, Linda. (2001). Trees of Ontario. Lone Pine Publishing Johnson, Hugh. (1973). World of Trees. Octopus Publishing Group LTD.