The ash, also known as the common or European ash to distinguish it from other species of ash, is one of Britain's most common native trees. Its distinctive greyish bark and ability to thrive in rocky limestone regions, plainly mark it out from Britain's other large trees.
In Norse mythology, the tree of the world was an ash called Yggdrasil. Its roots reached down into hell while the crown of the tree touched heaven with its huge trunk connecting the two. Odin, the greatest of the gods, carved the first man from its wood.
While the ash is not quite large enough to reach from heaven to hell, it is one of Europe's largest native deciduous trees and can reach heights of up to 43m (140ft) with a girth of 6m (20ft). But size was not the only great wonder of Fraxinus excelsior in days gone by. It was believed that passing a sick child through the cleft of the tree would cure it. In addition burning logs of ash was thought to drive evil spirits from the room.
As well as these superstitious benefits the ash is a practical tree and has long been used for its timber. At one time it was coppiced, or cut down to a stump, every few years to reinvigorate new growth and ultimately produce 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.
The ash enjoys a long period of winter hibernation and doesn't tend to show its foliage until around May. Prior to then it is identifiable by its black leaf buds, which appear at the end of its branches. However in April smaller buds in the middle of the branches burst into purple and green bloom.
The leaves of Fraxinus excelsior are around 30cm long and are made up of 9-11 lance-shaped and tapered leaflets. This formation is not found on any other of Britain's native trees so for the brief time that the leaves are on the tree it is easy to spot an ash. In the autumn, mature trees produce bunches of green winged seeds, commonly known as keys.
The Common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior, Linn.), a tall, handsome tree, common in Britain, is readily distinguished by its light-grey bark (smooth in younger trees, rough and scaly in older specimens) and by its large compound leaves, divided into four to eight pairs of lance-shaped leaflets, tipped by a single one, an arrangement which imparts a light feathery arrangement to the foliage. The leaflets have sharply-toothed margins and are about 3 inches long.