Ash Tree

The ash tree, Fraxineus excelsior, is one of Britain’s most graceful species of large tree, and can be recognised in Winter by its slender upright shape and domed canopy. As well as being a beautiful tree in its own right, it’s open, airy canopy and early leaf fall provide ideal conditions for wildflowers and butterflies in the forest under story, and it is an important food plant for many moths.

The bark of young ash trees is a pale smooth grey, but it develops into a rough fissured pattern in mature trees, as you can see here, so don’t be caught out by this in your winter tree identification!

In the Summer months the ash leaf’s iconic shape is a dead giveaway, but the good news is there’s a Winter tell-tale identification too – the velvety black buds on the tip of the new twigs and shoots. If you see these dark tips on pale twigs, it’s almost certainly ash.

Unfortunately ash trees in the UK are currently under threat from the ash dieback fungus, Chalara fraxinea, which causes leaves at the tip of the tree to wither and die, and can produce large diamond shaped legions on stems as it progresses. The emerald ash borer beetle, Agrilus planipennis, is also making its way across Europe towards the UK, posing a further threat.

Although it is not a native tree, sycamore occupies a similar ecological niche to ash, and it may be that it replaces much of the ash in our woodlands in the future.

By Chris Eyles, Senior Warden for Exmoor

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