White ash

Fraxinus americana
Family: Oleaceae

Natural Historywhite ash leaves
Winged fruits of white ash
Photo credit: Keith Kanoti, Maine Forest Service, Bugwood.org

The white ash is also known as American biltmore or cane ash. It is widely known for the variety of goods that are made from its high quality, tough, and durable wood. The white ash derives its common name from the glaucous undersides of its leaves. It is very similar in appearance to green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), often making identification quite difficult. The key to differentiating these two species is to closely examine the leaf scars. White ash leaf scars are deeply notched and take the shape of a horseshoe, while green ash leaf scars, which are flat against the bud, are shield-shaped. Additionally, the bottom surface of the white ash leaf is white or gray in color, while that of the green ash is more greenish. Site can also be used as a good indicator.

Habitat & Range

The white ash is most commonly found on moist, rich, well-drained soils in association with other hardwoods.  It is also found in bottomlands near streams and often on low slopes. This tree has a vast range, occurring from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Canada south to northern Florida and west to eastern Texas.

Wildlife Use

The seeds of the white ash are an important food source for a variety of birds including red-winged blackbird, evening grosbeak, pine grosbeak, and purple finch. Additionally, beavers often use young white ash for food.

Human Use

This tree is most famous for being the best wood for baseball bats and other sports equipment such as tennis racquets, hockey sticks, polo mallets, and playground structures. The reasons for white ash being the most popular wood for these items is that it is tough and does not break under large amounts of strain. This wood can be bent into different shapes without losing its strength and is quite light. There are numerous other uses for white ash wood including church pews, bowling alley flooring, garden and porch furniture, and cabinets. White ash is also planted as an ornamental because it is attractive, hardy and relatively free of diseases. 


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: White ash is a large tree that reaches 70 to 80 feet in height, 2 to 3 feet in diameter. This tree has been known to reach 125 feet in rare instances. In the forest it has a clear, straight bole, supporting a narrow, pyramidal crown. Open-grown trees produce branches within a few feet of the ground and form a broad, round-topped, symmetrical crown.
Leaves: Leaves are odd-pinnately compound, opposite, and deciduous. They are 8 to 13 inches long, with 5 to 9 stalked leaflets per leaf. The leaflets are oval to elliptical-shaped, 2 to 4 inches long, 1 to 3 inches wide. Leaflet apices are acute and leaflet bases are rounded or wedge-shaped. Leaflet margins are toothed or entire. Leaf surfaces are dark green and glabrous above, paler below and more or less pubescent. The rachis is stout and grooved.
Twigs: The twigs are stout and green to greenish-brown. The pith is white and homogeneous.
Bark: This light gray-brown bark is characterized by having deep, narrow ridges that form a diamond-shaped pattern.
Flowers: The light green to purplish flowers are dioecious and lack petals. Male flowers occur in tight clusters and female flowers grow in loose panicles.
Fruit: The fruit is a light-brown samara, about 1 inch long. They are often produced in clumps of 10 to 100 samaras.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
  • Boxelder is the only other species on our list with opposite, pinnately-compound leaves.

 

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