Fraxinus nigra

Black Ash

Black Ash
Photo courtesy USDA Plants Database

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The natural history of the northwoods


Name:

  • Fraxinus, from the Latin for ash tree
  • nigra, from the Latin, "black"
  • Common Name from the dark appearance of the leaves relative to the other ash species.
  • Other common names include Brown Ash, Hoop Ash, Basket Ash, Frêne noir (Qué)

Taxonomy:

  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Asteridae
        • Order Scrophulariales
          • Family Oleaceae, the Olives
            • Genus Fraxinus, the Ashes
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 32945

Description:

  • A medium-sized deciduous tree of wet places, 30'-50' tall.
  • Leaves opposite and pinnately compound, 9"-16" long with 7-13 leaflets
    • Leaflets 3"-5" long and 1"-2" wide with toothed edges
      • Surface dark green above, lighter green beneath with some rusty hairs.
      • Leaflet stalks absent except for the end leaflet
    • Fall Color purple to brown.
  • Stem
    • Trunk diameter of 10"-12"
    • Branches stout, straight, upright branches form an open, narrow or slightly rounded crown. coarse ascending branches and a slender, sometimes bent or leaning trunk which extends almost to the top of a narrow crown.
    • Twigs
    • Bark grey, relatively smooth, later becoming corky-ridged and shallowly furrowed or fissured; divided into large irregular plates with thin, soft, papery scales that rub off easily. Frequent knobs on the trunk.
  • Roots shallow, wide-spreading; on wet sites are subject to windthrow.
  • Flowers small and inconspicuous
  • Fruit an elongated, winged, single-seeded samara, 1"-1 3/4" long and 3/8" wide, borne in terminal or axillary clusters.

Identification:

  • Identifiable as an Ash by its compound leaves with toothed and pointed leaflets.
  • Distinguished from the Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) by its leaflets without stalks, attached directly to the midrib of the leaf.

Distribution:

  • Newfoundland west to SE Manitoba and eastern North Dakota; south to Iowa; east to southern Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia; and north from northern Virginia to Delaware and New Jersey.

Habitat:

  • A tree of wet places, most commonly moist to wet muck or shallow organic soils; in swamps, along small streams in gullies, and in small poorly drained depressions. It also grows on fine sands and loams underlain by clays and on other poorly drained sites with high water tables. In uplands restricted to sites with impeded drainage, where it grows on wetter than normal mineral soils.
  • Pioneer in Great Lakes States. Present but not abundant in mature forests dominated by Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea), Birch (Betula papyrifera), Tamarack (Larix laricina), spruce (Picea spp.), Elm (Ulmus americana), and White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis). In NE Minnesota, seedlings invade open areas in maple-basswood forests.
  • Major hardwood on lowlands in the northern Great Lakes States along with American Elm (Ulmus americana) and Red Maple (Acer rubrum). Typically a successional species with Black Spruce (Picea mariana) in bogs or where there is excess water.
  • Seedlings, saplings, and sprouts tend to dominate the regeneration layer where partial openings in the canopy have occurred.
  • Shade intolerant

Fire:

  • Easily damaged by fire; depending on fire severity, probably killed or top-killed.
  • Probably survives fire by sprouting from the root crown following top-damage from fire. A prolific seeder, probably regenerates from wind-dispersed seed.

Associates:

History:

  • During the last Ice Age, a minor component of the vast White Spruce forest which covered the Great Plains and eastern US, just south of the windswept tundra bordering the great ice sheets. One of the earliest species, along with spruce, to follow the retreating ice northward.
  • Native Americans used wood for basketmaking.

Uses:

  • Wood lighter in weight and not as strong or hard as other ashes; used for interior finishing, furniture, and cabinets.
  • Baskets can be woven from slats produced by pounding a wet block of wood until it separates along the annual growth rings.

Reproduction:

  • Germination requires stratification and a period of cold temperatures. Most seed do not germinate until the second spring after seedfall; some seed may lie dormant for up to 8 years.
  • Seedling development: Capable of germinating in hardwood leaf litter or under 1/4"-3/4" of soil. About 2" in 2 weeks; may average 6" by the end of first growing season. Often grow more slowly than seedlings of associated species such as American Elm and Red Maple.
  • Vegetative Reproduction: sprouts readily from stumps up to 12" in diameter and can exhibit fast growth. Will also root sucker.
  • Flowers appear in May or June, with or just before the leaves. Fruits ripen June-September and are dispersed July-October.

Propagation:

  • By seed

Cultivation:

  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Requires full sun and ample moisture. Quite tolerant of poorly drained soils but not tolerant of severe drought. Very hardy; USDA Zone 3a.
  • Soil pH 4.5-6.5
  • Spread of 20'-35'
  • Relatively fast growing and long lived.

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Last updated on 4 March, 2006