Fraxinus pennsylvanica

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"Red Ash" redirects here. For other uses, see Red Ash (disambiguation).
Fraxinus pennsylvanica
Fraxinus pensylvanica a1.jpg
Leaves and fruit
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Oleaceae
Genus: Fraxinus
Species: F. pennsylvanica
Binomial name
Fraxinus pennsylvanica
Fraxinus pennsylvanica range map 3.png
Natural range of Fraxinus pennsylvanica

Fraxinus pennsylvanica (green ash or red ash)[1] is a species of ash native to eastern and central North America, from Nova Scotia west to southeastern Alberta and eastern Colorado, south to northern Florida, and southwest to eastern Texas. It has spread and become naturalized in much of the western United States and also in central Europe from Spain to Russia.[2][3][4]


It is a medium-sized deciduous tree reaching 12–25 m (rarely to 45 m) tall with a trunk up to 60 cm in diameter. The bark is smooth and gray on young trees, becoming thick and fissured with age. The winter buds are reddish-brown, with a velvety texture. The leaves are 15–30 cm long, pinnately compound with seven to nine (occasionally five or eleven) leaflets, these 5–15 cm (rarely 18 cm) long and 1.2–9 cm broad, with serrated margins and short but distinct, downy petiolules a few millimeters long. They are green both above and below. The autumn color is golden-yellow and depending on the climate, Green Ash's leaves may begin changing color the first week of September. The flowers are produced in spring at the same time as the new leaves, in compact panicles; they are inconspicuous with no petals, and are wind-pollinated. The fruit is a samara 2.5-7.5 cm long comprising a single seed 1.5–3 cm long with an elongated apical wing 2–4 cm long and 3–7 mm broad.[5][6][7][8]

It is sometimes divided into two varieties, Fraxinus pennsylvanica var. pennsylvanica (red ash) and Fraxinus pennsylvanica var. lanceolata (Borkh.) Sarg. (syn. var. subintegerrima (Vahl) Fern.; green ash) on the basis of the hairless leaves with narrower leaflets of the latter, but the two intergrade completely, and the distinction is no longer upheld by most botanists.[2]


Bark and leaf

It is the most widely distributed of all the American ashes. A pioneer species, it naturally grows along streambanks and disturbed areas. The large seed crops provide food to many kinds of wildlife.[1]

It is seriously threatened in some areas, particularly Michigan, by the emerald ash borer, a beetle introduced accidentally from Asia to which it has no natural resistance.[9]

The spread of emerald ash borer was facilitated by the extensive use of green ash as an ornamental tree in the central US following the loss of American elms in the 1950s-60s due to Dutch elm disease. That epidemic was the result of a similar overuse of elms in urban environments, leading to a monoculture that lacked any disease or pest resistance. Both American elm and green ash were extremely popular for this purpose due to rapid growth and tolerance of urban pollution and road salt, so many housing developments in Michigan were lined from end to end with ashes, a result of which the beetles had an enormous food supply to boost their population. After the lesson of these twin disasters, urban planners in the region began a more sustainable planting program with a mixture of lindens, oaks, maples, and other trees to prevent a monoculture from existing again. The emerald ash borer proved to be a far worse and potentially more serious threat than epidemics of the past such as chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease because those diseases spread at a slower rate, only affected one species, and did not kill the trees before they could attain reproductive maturity.

The Chicago Park Commission meanwhile has employed a quite successful program to salvage the ashes of the city's parks by regular spraying of their branches with pesticide to kill emerald ash borer eggs. This was done after discovering that felling infested trees did not stop the spread of the beetle since they merely proceeded to lay their eggs on living ashes. It has since been made illegal to transport ash lumber out of infested counties unless the bark has been stripped off and the wood fumigated.


Autumn leaf color

Green ash is one of the most widely planted ornamental trees throughout the United States and much of Canada but mostly Alberta, including in western areas where it is not native. Is also widely planted in Argentina. It is very popular due to its good form and resistance to disease. About 40% of boulevard trees in Edmonton, Alberta are green ash.[10] It has several drawbacks as an urban tree, notably a relatively short lifespan compared to many trees (rarely over 100 years, often only 30–50 years), and more recently, the threat from the emerald ash borer. Advantages include its tolerance of urban conditions, ease of propagation, and (in eastern North America) its value for wildlife as a native species.

Green ash wood is similar in properties to white ash wood, and is marketed together as "white ash". The commercial supply is mostly in the South. It is very popular, used in making electric guitars because it can be somewhat lighter than white ash without sacrificing too much in tone. It has a bright sound with long sustain, plus the wood grain is aesthetically desirable to many guitar players. Gibson, Fender, Ibanez, Warwick, M2Guitars and many other luthiers use ash in the construction of their guitars.

Other names more rarely used include downy ash, swamp ash and water ash.


  1. ^ a b USDA Forest Service Silvics Manual: Fraxinus pennsylvanica
  2. ^ a b Germplasm Resources Information Network: Fraxinus pennsylvanica
  3. ^ Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Fraxinus pennsylvanica
  4. ^ Biota of North America Program, Fraxinus pennsylvanica
  5. ^ Common Trees of the North Carolina Piedmont: Fraxinus pennsylvanica
  6. ^ Northern Ontario Plant Database: Fraxinus pennsylvanica
  7. ^ Virtual Herbarium of the Chicago Region: Fraxinus pennsylvanica
  8. ^ Oklahoma Biological Survey: Fraxinus pennsylvanica
  9. ^ Emerald ash borer: EAB website
  10. ^ Edmonton: trees