Ash wood is one of the toughest woods that are available on the market and ash trees can be found all over the world. There are between 45 and 65 different species of trees in the fraxinus family which are either medium or large sized trees. Most are deciduous but a few are evergreens and they can be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere in North America, Europe and Asia. There also ash trees found in Australia but they belong to the eucalyptus family.
The name comes from the Olde English æsc which means spear. The leaves of the tree are spiraled and produce seeds known as keys or helicopter seeds which contain a fruit called samara. Ash trees are a food source for several species of moths and butterflies and also the emerald ash borer beetle, an invasive species which has killed millions of trees in the past 20 years.
Ash trees can live for a long time. Several specimens in Europe are over 200 years old with the oldest believed to be about 860 years old in Sao Bartolomeu dos Galegos in Portugal. The U.S. has a 340 year old specimen located near Trenton, New Jersey. The tallest is about 166 feet high near Kelheim, Germany with several other European specimens standing over 100 feet tall. The tallest in the United States is a white ash about 147 feet tall that is located in the Mohawk Trail State Forest in Massachusetts.
Ash wood is a dense hardwood and is tough and strong but yet elastic. It is used to make sporting equipment like archery bows, baseball bats, tool handles, guitars and other objects that need high strength and resilience. It is also commonly used with staircases producing a hard-wearing long-lasting stair and ash wood is also commonly used for handrails and balusters due to its elasticity. Reclaimed ash wood is great for this. It is also common with office furniture. Ash wood has good machining qualities since it is easy to use with nails and screws. In the past this wood was commonly used with old cars for the frames or suspension as well as older aircraft but has since been replaced by aluminum and other lightweight metals. Only one automobile manufacturer, the Morgan Motor Company in Great Britain, still manufactures cars with ash bodies.
Outdoor enthusiasts love this wood. It lights and burns easily making it popular for firewood and it is great for barbecuing since it produces a moderate and constant heat. Decorative green ash trees are commonly found along streets in the US. The inner bark of blue ash trees are used to make some of the finest blue dyes in the world. The leaves of the trees are favorite foods of cows, goats and rabbits and they can be preserved even after being cut off making great wintertime meals for animals.
Myths involving the ash tree are common in Europe. The Norse believed that a sugary substance that came from ash trees was fermented into their Mead of Inspiration or the product of a wise man who was killed and his blood was mixed with honey. Everyone who was said to drink it became a poet or a scholar. It was stolen by Odin who gave it to the gods and in return the gods gifted poetry to mankind. In more modern times the Irish believe that the shadow of an ash tree can damage crops. In Europe it was believed that snakes could be repelled by ash leaves or by drawing a circle with an ash branch. The English believed that the ash tree could cure warts and rickets but not everyone would find the tree helpful. They also called ash trees widowmakers since the branches could drop at any time without warning.