Introducing the Ash Tree Species
Trees are far more than just the wood that they provide for us, and it is important to pay full respect to their lives and all that they have to offer. The ash species is part of the fraxinus genus, which is part of the same botanical family as both olives and lilac (oleaceae).
The Fraxinus genus is comprised of 45-65 flowering plant tree species. An ash tree can be either a deciduous tree or an evergreen tree. A deciduous tree has leaves that will fall at some point within the year (usually in the fall) and re-emerge the following spring.
An evergreen tree has leaves that will remain green and persist all year long. Evergreen ash tree leaves usually occur in subtropical regions.
Ash tree species can be found all over the world. They are massively widespread across Europe, Asia, and North America. They can tolerate a great many soil types, levels of sun exposure, water levels, and all sorts of climatic differences.
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What do Ash Trees Look Like?
Having quite a few members within the family, ash trees will have slight differences amongst themselves. We’ll get into some more detailed tree identification a little bit later, but here are some characteristics of ash trees.
Depending on the species, an ash tree can obtain heights of anywhere from 30 feet to 120 feet. The soil health, water level, sun exposure, and temperature are all variables that will determine the overall height and appearance of the tree.
The most differences can be found within the bark. Overall, ash tree bark is recognized by its furrowed bark that exhibits a diamond pattern. A mature ash tree will have deeply furrowed bark, whereas a young ash tree will have far more smooth bark.
The most distinctly textured can be found on a white ash tree, whereas a green ash tree has the least prominent furrows. The black ash tree probably has the most unique bark, which is far dark and has a scaly feel and corky texture.
Though this may also vary, more often than not, an ash leaf will emerge as a compound leaf. This means that one single leaf is comprised of multiple leaflets. These leaflets are pinnately compound and oppositely arranged along a stem. Ash leaf color will vary slightly between species.
Once an ash tree is sexually mature, it will produce a fruit known as a samara. Samaras are winged seeds, which are more popularly referred to as “keys” or “helicopter seeds”. Ash tree seeds emerge this way to help with wind dispersal.
Ash Trees & the Emerald Ash Borer
In this day and age, one can’t really discuss an ash tree unless they also discuss the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). Agrilus planipennis is an invasive species to many regions. These wood-boring bark beetles were accidentally brought to North America in the late 1980’s on a shipment of wood packing material coming from eastern Asia.
Though the ash trees that exist in Asia experience no issue with the emerald ash borer, the North American ash species did not have the genetic makeup to defend themselves against this invader. Since the 1980’s, EAB has killed close to a billion ash trees all over Canada and the United States.
The EAB larvae are laid within the inner bark of the tree. The EAB larvae will then feed on this inner bark – otherwise known as phloem – effectively preventing the tree from being able to transport water and nutrients from the roots to the remainder of the tree.
This is a completely devastating invasion to the North American population of ash trees, and to the wildlife ecology surround the ash trees. Symptoms include vertical peeling of ash bark, and large galls that exude a powdery substance. Once an ash tree is attacked, the chances of survival are very slim.
Ash Trees & Wildlife Ecology
Ash trees play a vital role in the forest ecosystems where they exist. They are a very important source of habitat and source of food for many different animal and insect species.
First and foremost, ash tree leaves are an integral food source for many North American frog species. Fallen leaves will decay in swamps, ponds, and lakes, where tadpoles will then feed on the decaying leaves.
The reason why the leaves are a great food source is because they are very low in tannins. Other native tree species, like maple, red oak, and boxelder, have leaves that are high in tannins, and cannot be consumed by many species.
This vital detail of leaf-tannin content is what sets ash trees apart from other tree species. The emerald ash borer cannot feed on leaves with high tannin, thus protecting red oak and maple trees from invasion.
Additionally, the ash tree is an important habitat for insect species like the long horn beetles, lace bugs, caterpillars, and aphids. Mammalian species feed on ash tree seeds, deer species feed on the foliage, and silver haired bats use the tree for nesting.
So, it is difficult to see, that the emerald ash borer isn’t only destroying the ash tree population, it is also posing a significant threat to all of the insect and animal species that rely on the ash tree for survival.
Ash Wood Characteristics
Now that we’ve paid proper attention to the ash tree and the vital role that it plays in wildlife ecology, we can no move on to the general characteristics of ash wood and how it is used.
What Color is Ash Wood?
Ash wood is characterized by its straight grain and light brown to beige hue. It is known to darken over time, like most hardwood tends to do due to exposure to UV light and oxygen. Lighter colored versions will become richer and darker while wood that is darker, to begin with, will lighten slightly.
Ash wood can also be stained without losing its original grain or texture. However, sometimes it can be difficult to tell ash wood apart from oak wood because it can resemble oak when it is stained. This is why it is important to be sure you trust the seller before you buy anything claiming to be ash wood.
How Dense is Ash Wood?
Ash wood has a 1,320 lbf on the Janka scale. If you’re unaware of what that means, the Janka Test is used to determine how durable a variety of wood is. A steel ball is used to push down into a block of wood until it becomes embedded halfway through. The Janka value is the amount of force (in pounds) that is required to reach that point.
Ash wood is one of the more durable varieties of wood, right behind maple and white oak as popular choices. Ash is a hardwood, and it is known for being incredible dense, tough, and strong while still being elastic and pliable. Ash wood is one of the top choices for products that demand both strength, pliability, and long term resilience.
What is Ash Wood Used For?
Ash lumber is a very valuable commercial wood. Specifically white ash wood and European ash wood are very high in demand. Because of its aesthetically pleasing color and simplistic design, ash wood is a very popular type of wood for home furnishing, specifically in mid-century or modern style artisanal furniture.
Ash wood is also used for tools that demand strength and bend. Tools like this include bows, tool handles, baseballs bats, hurleys, and many other tool types.
Specifically the swamp ash tree wood is used for the creation of wooden instruments. The resonance of the wood makes for an ideal choice for both electric and acoustic guitar bodies.
Because of its good looks and robust integrity, ash wood is high in demand for staircase making as well. When steamed, the wood can easily be bent, thus enabling more creative and elaborate curved staircase designs.
Finally, ash wood makes for a great fuel wood as well. It is lightweight and burns evenly and easily. Though it is not as valued as say oak, or hickory, ash wood is also a popular choice when it comes to meat smoking as well!
14 Types of Ash Wood
1. Fraxinus Nigra
Common Name: Black Ash Tree, Basket Ash Tree, Brown Ash Tree, Swamp Ash Tree, Hoop Ash Tree
Growing Range: Eastern Canada, Northeastern United States
Height: 50-55 ft
Janka Hardness: 850 lbf
Black ash wood is characterized by a light to medium brown color. It’s generally darker than its counterpart – white ash. The sapwood has the tendency to be very wide grained and is usually beige to light brown in color. It has a medium to coarse texture (similar to oak) but is almost always straight and free of knots.
Black ash has a slower growth rate than white ash and as a result, is less dense with higher proportions of weaker early wood sections. This variety of ash is popular for use in basket weaving, electric guitars, flooring, boxes, baseball bats, and other tool handles.
Black ash trees are also a big part of the natural ecosystem. The seeds, branches, and leaves are used as food by a number of birds and animals.
All of the common names of the black ash tree come from the traditional uses of the tree and all that is has to offer. First Nations communities have used this tree for many reasons, including basket weaving, hence the names hoop ash and basket ash.
2. Fraxinus Americana
Common Name: White Ash Tree, Biltmore Ash Tree, American Ash Tree
Growing Range: Northeastern North America
Height: 40-70 ft
Janka Hardness: 1,320 lbf
White ash is also known as Biltmore ash and is one of the most common varieties of ash in the United States. It’s common throughout the northern and eastern regions. White ash wood could possibly be one of the most highly valued types of ash wood.
The heartwood is characterized by a light to medium brown color. The sapwood can be wide and is not always separated completely from the heartwood. The color of sapwood ranges from beige to light brown. The grain can sometimes be moderately curly but tends to almost always be straight and regular with a medium to coarse texture.
White ash is incredibly shock resistant and is one of the most commonly used hardwood for tool handles such as shovels and hammers. It is also used in a number of sports goods because of the stiffness and resilience of the wood. It is also in high demand for high quality furniture and flooring.
3. Fraxinus Quandrangulata
Common Name: Blue Ash Tree
Growing Range: Midwestern United States
Height: 60-70 ft
Janka Hardness: 1,290 lbf
Blue ash heartwood is a light to medium brown, slightly darker than white ash. Though it is similar to a white ash in texture; it’s medium to coarse with a straight and regular grain that is only sometimes curly. It has a Janka hardness of 1,290 lbf making it not as durable as white ash, but it’s running a close second.
Blue ash trees are found mostly in patches around the midwestern area of the United States. These are very tall trees that grow to almost 60-70 feet! The name for the tree comes from the tendency of inner bark to turn blue when it’s exposed to air. This was used historically to extract blue dyes for natural dyeing, hence the name.
The distinguishing quality of the blue ash tree is the distinct diamond shaped furrowing pattern of the bark, hence the latin term, quandrangulata. They are also characterized by their dark green leaves and blue-tinted inner bark.
4. Fraxinus Pennsylvanica
Common Name: Green Ash Tree, Red Ash Tree, Swamp Ash Tree, Water Ash Tree
Growing Range: Central North America
Height: 39-82 ft
Janka Hardness: 1,200 lbf
Thanks to the ability of green ash trees to grow in a variety of soil conditions and challenging weather, it is one of the most common ash wood types found in the United States. It is also sometimes referred to as red ash, swamp ash, and water ash.
Being as widely distributed as it is, many sellers will often disguise green ash as the more valuable, white ash wood. They are very similar in appearance and grain texture, though green ash actually has lighter wood than white ash (which may seem confusing, due to their names).
Green ash is often used to create electric guitars and acoustic guitars, because it is aesthetically pleasing, as well as provides a bright sound without any sacrificing of tone.
Green ash trees are also remarkable because they have proven to be somewhat resilient against the emerald ash borer. Small numbers of green trees appear to have genetic resistance against the invasion, and hybridization work is being done to try and help create more resilient future populations.
5. Fraxinus Profunda
Common Name: Pumpkin Ash Tree, Swell-Butt Ash Tree
Growing Region: Eastern North America
Height: 50-65 ft
Janka Hardness: 990 lbf
The pumpkin ash tree gets its name from the shape of the trunk which swells up towards the bottom, especially in wet conditions. This gives it the appearance of a pumpkin! This the reason the tree is also known as swell butt ash.
Pumpkin ash trees are amongst the tallest of the ash species, and they are also very widely grown. They can commonly be found growing in swampy areas, and this indicates the specific uses that pumpkin ash wood should be used for.
The heartwood is a light to medium brown color, with the sapwood being a light brown or beige color. The two are not clearly demarcated from one another. Pumpkin ash wood has a medium to coarse texture with straight and regular grain.
This wood is valued because it’s wonderfully affordable, it can be worked by both hand and machine, and it takes well to steaming, glueing, staining, and other finishing techniques. Being one of the least expensive hardwoods, it is commonly used for flooring, ash lumber, crates, and baseball bats.
6. Fraxinus Lanuginosa
Common Name: Tamo Ash Tree, Japanese Ash Tree, Aodamo Ash Tree, Manchurian Ash Tree
Growing Range: Japan, China, Korea, Russia
Height: 65-100 ft
Janka Hardness: 1,010 lbf
This type of ash wood is characterized by light to medium brown color of the heartwood with deeply figured grain patterns sometimes referred to as “peanut” figures. This is because of the almost three-dimensional grains that look like peanut shells!
Tamo ash wood is sold almost exclusively as veneer and is quite rare which makes it expensive – especially if it is being imported from Japan. It is valued because it is both strong and hard, and can easily be steamed and bent into curved shapes. The grain pattern is generally straight.
When it’s plain and un-figured, Tamo ash can closely resemble the North American species Black ash. It is commonly used for devices that require strength and flexibility, like skis, baseball bats, tennis rackets, and wooden instruments.
7. Fraxinus Excelsior
Common Name: European Ash, Common Ash
Growing Range: Europe, New Zealand, North America
Height: 39-59 ft
Janka Hardness: 1,480 lbs
European ash is one of the two most commercially valuable ash tree species on the planet. They are rapidly growing, resilient, and the quality of the wood enables a multitude of uses and functions. European ash wood has been a long time important resource for farmers and commercial ash lumber distributors.
Back in the day, European ash trees were coppiced on a 10 year cycle in order to be the main source of timber for woodworking, construction projects, fuelwood, and poles. Since then, it has continued to be extremely useful and is used to create tool handles, tennis rackets, snooker cues, and anything else that requires strength and bend.
European ash wood is valuable because it is tough, hard, and resilient. The sapwood is usually a creamy white to light brown color, with the heartwood being closer to a dark olive-brown, and the entirety exhibiting a coarse, open grain pattern. This aesthetically pleasing color is appealing to furniture makers and wood flooring experts alike.
8. Fraxinus Latifolia
Common Name: Oregon Ash Tree
Growing Range: Western North America (Oregon, Washington, California, British Columbia)
Height: 65-80 ft
Janka Hardness: 1,160 lbs
The Oregon ash tree, though very similar in characteristics to the white ash tree, does not share the same commercial value. The Oregon ash tree has such a tiny growing range, that there simply are not enough trees for them to be widely distributed.
The quality of Oregon ash wood is comparable to that of the eastern ash species, but it is very rarely used for larger distribution because of its limited availability. That being said, it is used on a small scale for sports equipment, tool handles, and baseball bats.
Both the heartwood and the sapwood or Oregon ash wood is hard, strong, stiff, and lustrous in appearance. It is a light brown color with a wide grain pattern. The wood itself is wonderfully flexible, shock resistant, and easily worked by both hands and machines.
9. Fraxinus Ornus
Common Name: Manna Ash Tree, Southern European Flowering Ash Tree
Growing Range: Europe, Asia
Height: 49-82 ft
The manna ash tree is native to the most southern regions of Europe. The tree is named after the sacred food in the Bible and is commonly used for medicinal purposes by extracting the mannitol and mannose from the sap.
The manna ash tree is identified by its dark grey bark that remains smooth, even on a mature ash tree. Dark green leaves emerge in opposite pairs and are pinnately compound. Once autumn comes around, the leaves turn from green to a lovely yellow or purple color. Flowers are also ornamentally appreciated, and are slender and a creamy white color.
Manna ash trees have a very small growing range, and therefore are not commercially valued for their lumber. Instead, they are valued as an ornamental tree because of their smooth bark and beautiful flowers and fall leaves.
10. Fraxinus Angustifolia
Common Name: Narrow Leaved Ash Tree, Raywood Ash Tree
Growing Region: Europe, Asia, Africa
Height: 60-90 ft
Also known as Raywood ash, desert ass, and claret ash, this tree is found mostly in northwest Africa, southwest Asia, and central Europe. These trees are usually between 60-80 feet tall and are characterized by the beautiful purple foliage during the fall season. They are best grown in acidic soil which is why they’re a good choice to plant in urban areas.
You can also identify the narrow leaf ash tree by its pale grey bark that is smooth on young tree, but cracked and knobbly on older trees. Leaves occur in opposite pairs of in whorls of 3. Leaves actually have a long known medicinal use, for treatment of rheumatism.
These trees are fast growing, but are not particularly valued in the timber industry. When timber is obtained from these trees, it is most commonly used for cabinetry. Mostly they are used as a cultivated plant, and help with erosion control, or they are used as a street tree or as a landscape tree.
11. Fraxinus Velutina
Common Name: Arizona Ash Tree, Modesto Ash Tree, Desert Ash Tree, Smooth Ash Tree, Leatherleaf Ash Tree, Velvet Ash Tree, Fresno Ash Tree
Growing Range: North to Southwestern United States
Height: 30-50 ft
Also known as Arizona as or Modesto ash, these trees thrive in wet and alkaline soil. This makes them plentiful in north and southwestern regions of America. These are medium-sized trees ranging from 30 to 50 feet tall and grow at a fairly fast rate. Due to their drought tolerance, they can also be grown in dry conditions.
The Arizona ash tree can be identified by its smooth bark that is light grey in color, but darkens and becomes furrowed with age. They have green leaves that turn a very bright golden yellow in autumn.B Because they are slow growing and short lived, they don’t have much use in the large-scale commercial lumber industry, but plenty of uses can be found if there is a grove near your home!
12. Fraxinus Dipetala
Common Name: California Ash Tree, Two Petal Ash Tree
Growing Range: Western and Central United States
Height: 8-20 ft
The California ash tree is another one of those species that isn’t particularly valued as an ash lumber variety, but has plenty of other uses. This variety is far too small with a restricted growing range to have an real commercial value as a wood species.
However, all living things have value in their own right. In the case of the California ash tree, this small deciduous tree (or large shrub) is valued ornamentally, and for its contribution to the local ecology.
They can be identified by their shrubby growth habit, their compound leaves comprised of 3-7 oppositely arranged leaflets, or by their 2-lobed white flowers with a particularly sweet fragrance. These flowers hang in fluffy clusters, and emerge before the spring foliage does.
13. Fraxinus Greggii
Common Name: Gregg’s Ash Tree, Littleleaf Ash Tree, Dogleg Ash Tree, Escobilla
Growing Range: Southwestern United States
Height: 12-19 ft
Known as little leaf ash, dogleg ash, and Mexican ash, these trees are probably the shortest out of all the different ash trees. They can only grow up to 10-20 feet tall and are characterized by smaller leaves. These trees are commonly found in New Mexico, Texas, and parts of Arizona. These can also be grown in large containers and have moderate drought resistance.
Gregg’s ash tree has more ornamental significance than structural significance. They are characterized by their smooth, light grey bark, slender branches, and nearly evergreen, dark green, leathery leaves. They provide a much needed splash of color in the long winter months.
14. Fraxinus Caroliniana
Common Name: Carolina Ash Tree, Florida Ash Tree, Pop Ash Tree, Water Ash Tree, Swamp Ash Tree
Growing Range: Cuba and Subtropical United States
Height: 20-40 ft
Janka Hardness: 1,250 lbf
Also known as Florida ash, pop ash, water ash, and swamp ash, these trees are found mostly around states of north and south Carolina – hence the name. These are medium sized trees that grow best in wet soils which is why they are most commonly found near swamps.
You can identify a Carolina ash tree by its light grey-brown bark that covers its multi-stemmed branches. Bark develops ridges and scales with age. Leaves are a leathery texture and are pinnately compound.
Because of its multi-stemmed growth habit, the Carolina ash tree cannot be used for its wood. Additionally, the wood tends to be both light, soft, and weak — not the characteristics we’re looking for when it comes to structural projects.
And there you have it! Hopefully you learned something about the importance of the ash tree, both to humankind and to wildlife ecology. There is no end to the uses of the ash tree, and saving this tree species of extinction should be high on the priority list!