Oleaceae - Fraxinus profunda (Pumpkin Ash) – synonym F. tomentosa
WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE
The branch leaf scars are a crescent moon smile. After buds mature you’ll see the dark colored bud is nearly enclosed by the crescent moon.
Leaflets are 5 – 9 but I mostly see . Shape is ovate AND imparpinnate (fancy word for having an add number of leaflets with all paired but the top-most), edges smooth to slightly serrated and the fall foliage is yellow. The bark is gray-brown with smoothness that give ways to deep elongated furrows running the axis of the trunk. Does well in diverse soil types but home is wetlands.
WHERE DO THEY LIVE
Mature trees reach heights 60 – 80’ in urban settings and up to 140’ in natural habitats and a spread of 30 – 50’. They are excellent for rain gardens and tolerant of loam to clay soils. It’s a swamp or floodplain tree with a wide distribution and rarely encountered. Hangs out with cottonwood (Populus spp), and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). Quite gregarious! It is only known in the USA, while other Ash trees have a pan-global (or near so) distribution.
Sadly, it does succumb the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). The pics here are two very old stately trees that have reached near maturity and are just now showing signs of EAB though not treated in the past 7 years if ever treated. I’m making an educated guess that these trees have been lucky enough to be in an Ashless pockets and in such great soil their immune systems are optionally functioning. Random chance has such an enormous role in the outcome of any life and we humans just can’t wrap our heads around that, self included.
BIT O’HISTORY AND SERVICE
Got its name according to W.R. Harms, for its plump or swollen butt (base of trunk) when found in bottom lands or swamps. Provides critical food source and habitat to a variety of arthropods, birds, squirrels and deer, to name a few. It is a minor player in these forest types: Baldcypress-Tupelo (oh take me there now, please!) and water tupelo-swamp tupelo forests. It can be found taking more a costar role in higher diversity bottomland forests composed of American elm, persimmon, sweetbay, buttonbush, etc.
This tree lineage dates back at least the Oligocene – that s 33.9 Million years ago! Wrap your head around that one. So, these ashes have been floating their seeds and pollen around and supporting the life of a huge assortment of animals and arthropods. Slight segue here…the Oligocene enjoyed the likes of the Indricotherium (a very large, canopy reaching rhinoceros like creature) as well as the entrance of many mammals we recognize today. So maybe these trees helped feed their success? Think about the iron y in that. Where these ash trees part of the fossilized plant deposits were currently mine for fossil fuel production and consumption?
BTW if we reduce time into chunkable forms are 80 year existence can understand (one year) then on Jan 1 we have the first life forms (all microbes). They continue to evolve up to March (~3500 million years ag (Ma)). This makes eaxh day of a year about 12.5 my. By November we have our first land plants and December brings alien amphibians (play on words there). The dinosaurs disappear just after Christmas New year’s eve we celebrate the Pleistocene Glaciation and at 11:59 on NYE, humans hit the scene.
WHY AND HOW TO PROTECT
This Ash like at least 7 other species is critically endangered to the emerald ash borer (EAB). Efforts to protect the tree include my small contribution of saving urban trees that can contribute offspring the subsequent generations while we await a solution to the EAB. There are seed bans and also cell and root culturing to provide trees for the future.
The critical role all ash trees play in wetland habitats is hard to overstate. Pumpkin ash in addition to providing oxygen to the atmosphere and a carbon sink through its used of CO2 to create sugars, also provides wildlife food and shelter, and perhaps most critical of all it is a water purifier. Ashes are integral to maintaining healthy oxygenated water. That means water with more types of bugs some of which can eat the mosquito larvae that transmit human diseases. It’s all connected this big beautiful Earth we hang out on.
So, don’t give up on the ash. Plant one or six and then treat it every three years to protect it from that gorgeous and devastating beetle the EAB
Possible goods news bout EAB – turns out it also feeds on privet, Russian and Autumn olive (probably anything in the Oleaceae family as well). Maybe we can #SAVETHEASHES and recruit this little luminescent beetle to take care of the privet and autumn olive decimation of indigenous habitat?
1. Sterrett W.D. 1915, the Ashes: their characteristics and management, USDA, Bulletin 299, Washington, DC
2. Harms W.R. 1900. Agricultural Handbook, USDA, University of Minnesota.
3. Missouri Botanical gardens Plant Finder - http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=c987
4. Ornanet blog
6. Sibleys Guide to Trees
7. The Morton Arboretum Research reveal Bleak News for America’s Ash Trees: 5 of 6 species Critically Endangered, 9/14/2017
8. UCMP.berkeley.edu – Life of the Oligocene
9. Hinsinger et al. 2013. The Phylogeny and Biogeographic History of Ashes (Fraxinus, Oleaceae) Highlight the Roles of Migration and Vicariance in the Diversification of Temperate Trees