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Common ash

As one of Europe's largest native trees, the ash is steeped in mythology and superstition. It was believed that passing a sick child through a large split in the tree's trunk would cure it, and burning logs of ash were thought to drive evil spirits away.

Black leaf buds of the common ash

About Kew's common ash trees

European ash rarely lives to be more than about 250 years old, which means this tree planted in 1966 is coming up to a quarter of the way through its allotted life span. If conditions were perfect for it, it might also grow four times taller, up to 40 m. You can see dozens of ash trees in the Gardens.

Take a closer look

  • The ash hibernates through to about May before its leaves emerge. Before then it is identifiable by its black leaf buds, which appear at the end of its branches.
  • Ash leaves are around 30 cm long and are made up of 9 - 11 lance-shaped and tapered leaflets in offset pairs, with an odd one at the end. This formation is not found on any other of Britain's native trees so when it is in leaf, it is easy to spot an ash.

Tree biology

The ash, also known as the common or European ash, has distinctive greyish bark which is smooth in younger trees and grows vertical fissures as it ages. Its bark is thought to be the potential inspiration for its common name.

The leaves are sensitive to the cold and are shed early in autumn after the first frost, leaving the ash 'keys' hanging on bare branches throughout winter. In the wind, ash keys may fly over 500 metres away from the parent tree.

Cultivation and uses

The European ash is a practical tree that is widely used for its excellent timber. At one time it was coppiced, or cut down to a stump every few years to encourage new growth for new timber. The wood itself is tough and springy making it ideal as handles for tool such as axes and hammers, as well as for recreational uses.

Hockey sticks, tennis rackets and skis were all made of ash at one time. It is still the only timber used to make 'hurleys' – the sticks used in the Irish game of hurling.

Quick facts

  • Scientific name: Fraxinus excelsior
  • Family: Oleaceae
  • Place of origin: Caucasus (a region at the border of Europe and Asia) and Europe
  • Conservation status: Common
  • Date planted: 1966
  • Height: 10 m