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Environmental Studies

Fraxinus americana  (White Ash) Family Name: Oleaceae

White ash (Fraxinus americana), also called Biltmore ash or Biltmore white ash, is the most common and useful native ash but is never a dominant species in the forest. It grows best on rich, moist, well-drained soils to medium size. Because white ash wood is tough, strong, and highly resistant to shock, it is particularly sought for handles, oars, and baseball bats.

The White ash is resistant to heat, although it is native to moist locations, including river bottoms and well-drained upland sites. It grows 50 to 80 feet tall and wide. The trees produce a good seed-set every two to three years and they germinate in the landscape creating a nuisance and perhaps look a bit messy. The seeds are used by many birds and can be produced in countless numbers. The tree grows rapidly and is almost pyramidal when young, but gradually slows down and develops a more spreading round or oval shape. White Ash prefers a sunny exposure where it develops a showy yellow fall color. Fall color can be striking or dull, depending on the tree and environmental conditions.

Physical characteristics

 Leaf: Leaflets are often ovate (egg-shaped). The leaves are whitish (glucose) beneath. This tree contains opposite pinnately compounded leaves.

Flower | Seeds: Flowers appear in early spring. These are male flowers. White Ash is dioecious which means the male and female flowers are on different trees. The samaras (fruits) have long, narrow wings. Buds are rich brown with an interesting scaly texture.

Twig: Stout, gray-olive-green, hairless, leaf scars round at the bottom, notched at the top, with lateral buds in the notch; terminal bud is large, brown, with leathery scales and flanked by two lateral buds.

Trunk | Bark: The bark of larger trees usually has diamond-shaped intersecting ridges.

Form: A large tree up to 80 feet tall that typically develops a straight, clear bole (particularly on good sites), usually with a narrow oblong crown.

Life span: Perennial - a plant that lasts for more than two growing seasons.

Ecological characteristics

The White Ash is best grown in moist, organically rich, well-drained loams in full sun. Moderate drought tolerance. Best sited in locations protected from strong winds. Generally tolerant of urban conditions, particularly if well-sited in the landscape. Tolerant of neutral to slightly alkaline soil conditions.

Native Range: White ash grows naturally from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, to northern Florida in the east, and to eastern Minnesota south to eastern Texas at the western edge of its range.

Climate: The climate varies greatly within the natural range of this species. The length of the frost-free period is from 90 to 270 days. Mean January temperatures range from -14° C (7°F) to 12° C (54° F) and the mean annual minimum temperatures range from -34° C (-30° F) to -5° C (23° F). Mean July temperatures range from 18° C (64°F) to 27° C (81° F). The average annual precipitation is between 760 and 1520 mm (30 and 60 in), and the snowfall is from 0 to 250 cm (100 in).

Elevation: White ash grows from near sea level on the Coastal Plain to
3,450 feet (1,050 m) in the Cumberland Mountains.

Soil: White ash has a strong affinity for soils high in nitrogen and

Importance to the ecosystem

Seeds of White Ash are eaten by several species of birds. The bark is occasionally food for rabbits, beavers, and porcupines. Cavity excavating and nesting birds often use White Ash. This tree attracts wood ducks, bobwhites, purples finches, pine grosbeaks, fox squirrels, rabbits, beavers, mice, and porcupines.

The damage to the ash population will be economically and ecologically  devastating. It has the potential to wipe out the whole species, which could  seriously affect ecosystems. In addition, the ash tree is an important economic  factor not only by the popularity in the purchase of the tree for ornamental  planting but for the products made and sold from its wood. In addition, the cost  of removing dead or dying trees is overwhelming municipal budgets. Homeowners  must also pay to either prevent the disease or to eliminate diseased trees from  their properties.

 Relationship with other species

Non-human: White ash is an important source of browse and cover for livestock and wildlife. The samaras are good forage for the wood duck, northern bobwhite, purple finch, pine grosbeak, fox squirrel, and mice, and many other birds and small mammals. White ash is browsed mostly in the summer by white-tailed deer and cattle.

White ash’s ability to readily form trunk cavities if the top is broken
and its large d.b.h. (24 to 48 inches [61-122 cm]) at maturity make it
highly valuable for primary cavity nesters such as red-headed,
red-bellied, and pileated woodpeckers. Once the primary nest excavators
have opened up the bole of the tree, it is excellent habitat for
secondary nesters such as wood ducks, owls, nuthatches, and gray

Humans: The durable wood is used to make tool handles, oars, canoe paddles, baseball bats, furniture, antique vehicle parts, snowshoes, cabinets, railroad cars and ties, etc.

Pests: Borers are common on Ash and they can kill trees.  The most common borers infesting Ash are Ash borer, lilac borer and carpenterworm.  Ash borer bores into the trunk at or near the soil line causing tree dieback.  Lilac borer causes swellings on the trunk and limbs where the insect enters the tree.  The carpenterworm larvae bore into the heartwood but come to the outside of the tree to push out frass and sawdust.  Heavily infested trees can be severely weakened.  Keep trees as healthy as possible by fertilizing regularly and watering during dry weather.

Aphids are often seen but are usually not serious.

In late summer, fall webworm covers branches with webbing.  The nests in branches close to the ground can be pruned out when first noticed.   Bacillus thuringiensis may control fall webworm.

Diseases: A rust disease causes distorted leaves and swollen twigs.  Small, yellow, cup-like structures, producing yellow spores, appear on the infected areas. Controls are usually not needed.

A number of fungi cause leaf spots on Ash. The disease is worse in wet years and is partially controlled by gathering and disposing of diseased, fallen leaves.

Anthracnose is also called leaf scorch and leaf spot.  Infected parts of the leaves turn brown, especially along the margins. Infected leaves fall prematurely. Rake up and destroy infected leaves. Chemical controls are not practical or economical on most large trees.

Canker diseases cause branch dieback and death of the tree when the trunk is infected.  Try to keep trees healthy with regular fertilization.

Powdery mildew makes a white coating on the leaves.

Ash ring spot virus causes chlorotic red and yellowish spots or rings on the leaves. Infected trees may be stunted and dieback, but often the problem in minor.

Verticillium wilt causes branches of infected trees to wilt and die, eventually the entire tree may die. Keep trees healthy and fertilize infected trees to suppress disease symptoms.

Other interesting facts

  • Some of the primary associates of white ash include eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), northern red oak (Quercus rubra), white oak (Q. alba), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red maple (A. rubrum), yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), black cherry (Prunus serotina), American basswood (Tilia americana), eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), American elm (Ulmus americana), and yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera).
  • Almost 99 percent of the fruits (samaras) contain one seed and about 1 percent contain two.
  • One of the earliest reported uses of white ash was as a snake bite preventive. Ash leaves in a hunter’s pocket or boots were “proved” to be offensive to rattlesnakes and thereby provided protection from them.











Page Drafted By: Julia Giza