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Ash Tree - Genus: Fraxinus An article from "The Trees Of Old England" by Leo H.Grindon

Ash Tree - Genus: Fraxinus by Leo Hartley Grindon; Previously a Lecturer on Botany at the Royal School of Medicine, Manchester. Author of "Life: its Nature, Varieties, and Phenomena;" "British and Garden Botany;" " The Little Things of Nature;" "Echoes in Plant and Flower Life," and others.

Picture of the Ash Tree - Genus: Fraxinus

Ash Tree - Genus: Fraxinus A Sketch of the aspects, associations and uses of Ash Tree - Genus: Fraxinus which constitute the forests and give effect to the scenery of Great Britain.

The fame of the Ash-tree reaches back to the remotest antiquity, the wood having been used from time immemorial for spear-shafts and in the construction of other weapons of war, whence its wellknown epithet the " martial." Strange that such a purpose should be served by a tree, the young branches of which are so brittle that they snap like sealing-wax. The delicate and feminine beauty of the ash has also contributed to render it an object of frequent mention in literature, as when Virgil commends it as the most graceful of trees, in the often-quoted line - Fraxinus in sylvis pulclierrima.

To English landscape the ash gives something of the character which in warm countries is supplied by the Acacia. This comes of its feathered leaves. The sunbeams filter perfectly through the foliage, and thus we receive at all times that agreeable sense of lightness and transparency which results from the sky being seen through a network of twig and verdure. In its stature, too, the ash commends itself, well-grown individuals rising to the height of from eighty to a hundred feet. It has been said, that while we instinctively most love that which is little, admiration fastens chiefly upon the great; I think it will prove that we find our highest pleasure, after all, in contemplating that which strikes us more particularly as lofty, of course with the idea of symmetry combined. We give this meed of approval, as the spontaneous act of the soul, to the lily, to the aspiring palm, to the woman who rises higher than her companions. Not that in so doing we depreciate and disesteem the less, but that the tall takes the firmest and deepest hold. It is a great point to be always invited, by the stature of what surrounds us, to look upivards; or at all events, not to have our eyes habitually below the line of straight seeing. Our physical nature and organization are the better for such upward-looking; and a certain quiet satisfaction of spirit, felt, though indefinable, flows therefrom as a beautiful corollary. I have often thought that it may have pleased God to furnish, and decorate the earth with tall trees in no slight measure for this identical and especial purpose. Timber, or something equivalent to it, might have been caused to exist after the manner of granite and marble: fruits are produced, as it is, mainly by plants of inconsiderable height, so designed, no doubt, in order that their juicy largess shall be reached readily and pleasantly; all other gifts of vegetation it is quite easy to conceive as producible by herbaceous plants, and how copiously, let the gums, the resins, the dyes, the medicines which the latter yield so profusely, declare on their behalf. All this luxury and munificence is quite conceivable; yet no such provision would compensate the want of the green stateliness of the Trees. Shade, dignity, the poetry of the past, the delight of the present, the hope and inspiration of the future; all these things come of their glorious tallness; contemplating which, we are constrained to peer into the heavens. The two most admirable things in living nature, are mankind and the perennial trees; and the most perfect expression of the beautiful lies in that section of each respectively which we term the feminine, the latter always gaining from graceful stature. It is interesting to observe, at the same moment, that the ash, while so stately in its upright growth, is one of those trees in which the branches most readily assume the pendant position, thus becoming what are inconsiderately called "weeping," the true idea being rather that of long tresses, gracefully let down awhile, and calculated to remind us, not of mourning and the disconsolate, but rather of such incidents as when the Lady Godiva - "Let fall the rippled ringlets to her knee."

Quite enough of calamity and sadness is inevitable to this temporal world to render it unnecessary for man to encourage thoughts and to impose names that shall make it seem more plentiful. The true idea of wisdom and of religion alike, is cheerfulness; and our pride and pleasure should be, not only to cultivate unbroken gratitude to God for the multitudinous small mercies which we daily enjoy, and to cherish thankful sensations and ideas, but at the same time to endeavour to reflect those thoughts and feelings upon the face of nature, seeking and striving to behold gladness in all things, and to gather, in turn, from the pictures set forth in nature, new incitements to the pursuit of what is "lovely and of good report," new impulses to be energetic in right doing, new reason to forsake selfishness as being a thing utterly unprofitable. It is just these results upon our hearts which constitute the true utility and the magnificence of the purpose of the world around us. If we ask what is the use of an immense proportion of the world's contents, meaning by "use," serviceableness for food, or for drink, or for clothing, there will come no answer. It was but a small part of the Divine munificence to provide for the satisfaction of bodily wants. It has pleased God to make innumerably more things fitted to do good to oui souls than He has prepared of a kind suited to the body, only we think so little of it and so seldom. See how earnestly we thank Him at meal-times, and rightly so, for our meat, and peas, and beans, for our milk and sugar and bread: do we not sometimes err in forgetting to thank Him for the Trees? I see, too, in these beautiful pendulous ones, the weeping-ash for example so charming an ornament for a lawn, especially when not far from a silver birch a sweet emblem of filial love. For though fed and allured in every possible way by the atmosphere and the sunshine overhead, see how the branches seem to love the spot from which that glorious canopy of verdure took its rise ! Tall and illustrious as the tree is now, once it was a little seedling that might be crushed beneath the foot. So true is it that nature contains counterparts of everything that is delightful in the history of human life and the human affections one form or another gives us a picture of everything that goes to make up home and love; faithfulness, and reverence, and solace.

Botanically, the ash-tree is distinguished from every other arborescent plant of our country (save and except the somewhat similar mountain-ash) by the peculiar form of the leaves. These instead of consisting of a single blade, like those of the oak, the elm, or the beech, are composed of several pairs of leaflets, with an odd one at the extremity. Technically, this form is called "pinnate," or feather-like. Whether the leaflets be articulated to the main stalk from the first, so as to constitute a truly compound leaf is not quite clear. When they fall in autumn, the pieces certainly come asunder, just like those of the horse-chestnut and the Virginian-creeper; it is not unusual, on the other hand, to find young leaves in September, in which all the members are perfectly conjoined. The analogy of the jessamine, to which the ash-tree is nearly allied, would seem to indicate that they are not truly compound. The foliage is late in coming out, with the exception of the mulberry, perhaps there is no tree in England which is habitually so much behindhand; and late as the leaves appear, they are among the soonest to fade in the autumn. At the last-named period the ash assumes none of those brilliant hues which go to make up the grandeur of the woodland sunset. The leaves simply turn to a dull brownish-green, curling up as if scorched, and generally fall from the tree almost together, so that the branches become denuded in the course of one or two days. There is a useful bit of practical knowledge connected with this tardy appearance and early decay. The expansion of the leaves is a sign that the season is sufficiently advanced for green-house plants to be trusted out of doors, the chance of frost being now reduced to a minimum; and by-and-by, when the leaves begin to fall, it is a sign that the time is come for the restoration of them to their wonted shelter. So pleasing are the "signs of the times" afforded by plants; very many of which are almost as trustworthy as those drawn from astronomy.

Linnaeus proposed to construct a calendar for the guide of the gardener and of the agriculturist, which would enable them, by observing at what periods certain trees come into leaf, or certain plants into blossom or fruit, to judge of the best times for sowing and planting, and also for gathering in the crops. It stands to reason that if after a few years' careful observation, a particular vegetable is found to succeed best when the seed is sown at the time some particular flower is in perfection, the recurrence of that period, the renewal of the perfection of that particular flower, will mark the time when the vegetable in question will again be most likely to be sown to advantage. In this beautiful concord we should in time secure a certain guide to healthy and prosperous operations, alike in field and garden, and should be able to calculate exactly when to look for the results. " If we found," for instance, says one who laboured hard to establish the fact, " that on sowing peas or other seed when the gooseberry -bush blossomed, they were ready for getting when the corn-marigold flowered, we might be pretty sure that every succeeding year the same uniformity would prevail, and by a little attention, the suitable times for all other such operations would be determined." It is not only in reference to garden and farm produce that such a calendar is at once possible and very interesting. So exact is the agreement between the period in the leafing and the flowering of trees and plants, that meeting with one kind in some fair and pleasant field, we are assured that in the woodland we may now look with certainty for some other, each being an intimation of the arrival of its companion. That such a correspondence exists between the arrival and departure of migratory birds, and in their songs and nest-building; also in the hatching of certain insects, and the appearance of certain flowers, has long been known to naturalists, and many plants have been named from this beautiful harmony, the cuckoo-flower for instance, and probably the wake-robin. By-andby, when men learn to love nature as dearly as it deserves, these engaging truths will all be marshalled, and almanacks will deal not only with the changes of the moon, and the sun's rising and setting, but will become tables of the sweet harmonies that subsist between nature's calm and pleasant teachings and man's highest practical wisdom. It is impossible to enter nature at any point, but we come at once upon something useful to know; and the .knowledge of which increases our happiness.

The particular place held by the ash in the sequence of arrivals of first leaves was established by the celebrated Benjamin Stillingfleet, who in Norfolk, in the year 1765, made out the following list of dates. Of course they will vary with the season, a late spring driving all a little forwards, a forward one giving each a little earlier place, but the relative periods will probably be found to vary but slightly. It is with the leafing of trees as with the rise and sweet sheen of the constellations: their places vary with the hour of the night, but they never alter their positions with regard to one another and to the pole-star. Omitting some of the less important trees and shrubs, the following is the list referred to Honeysuckle January 15 - Elder March 11 - Birch April 1 - Bramble 3 - Plum, Apricot, and Peach, about ... 6 - Filbert, Sallow, and Alder, about ... 7 - Sycamore 9 - Small-leaved Elm 10 - Wych-elm 12 - Mountain-ash and Hornbeam 13 - Apple 14 - White-poplar and Chestnut 16 - Oak 18 - Lime 19 - Maple, Black-poplar, and Beech ... 21 - Ash 22

Individual trees, of course, may be found anticipating the generality, just as in late autumn we may often observe individuals still green long after the great mass of their kind has become denuded. The principle, nevertheless, remains true, and all that is needed is for various observers in different places to note down the particulars for a few consecutive years, and then compare them. The least variation in the periods of events in nature available for the purpose of a calendar appears to be in the arrival of the migratory birds, and in the hatching of young rooks; the greatest, on the other hand, is in the blossoming of the turnip, the appearance of the yellow butterfly^ and the singing of the loved and always welcome thrush.

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Ash Tree - Genus: Fraxinus An article from "The Trees Of Old England" continued...

Ash Tree - Genus: Fraxinus

The flowers of the ash-tree are the simplest known to Botany, at least as regards trees. They make their appearance long before the leaf-buds open, at first resembling clusters of ripe blackberries, and closely seated upon the twigs, towards the extremities. This rich and vinous colour is wholly given by the anthers, which while young, are large and oval, and very densely packed. By degrees the mass becomes disintegrated, and the innumerable little blossoms compose a loose and branching panicle, not unlike that of the lilac-tree flowers. Between every couple of anthers lies, usually, a thin flat ovary, and this in due course, ripens into the well-known winglike body called the "ash-key." Some trees never produce fruit; the ash being one of those plants which, without being structurally unisexual, after the manner of the Amentiferae, are nevertheless, by non-development of some portion, unisexual very often in effect. In other words, some individuals produce perfect or bisexual flowers, while others are deficient in the pistilline or female portion. Hence it is that in winter, when the "keys " hang upon many individuals in those dense brown clusters which are so strikingly characteristic of this beautiful tree when leafless, certain other individuals are totally without them. They are generally at a considerable height, few being procurable by the 'hand lifted from below; and the same of course is previously the condition of the flowers, which like those of poplars, often make us envy the birds, to whom no blossom is inaccessible. Many marks thus serve to isolate and distinguish the ash-tree, and if more were needed, we have them in the peculiar curving upwards of the extremities of the branches, at least when the tree is adult and growing old; in the flattened extremities of the twigs; and in the sooty-black buds, which at all seasons are more or less remarkable.

It is pleasing to. observe for what very different situations the various figures of trees severally adapt themselves. The ash shows nowhere better than at the corner of a wood, where, by bringing off the heaviness of other trees, it forms, by reason of its lightness, a sort of transition from foliage to airy space. Hence, too, the exquisite effect of ash-trees when they have shot up, from wind-conveyed seeds, among ruins, such as those of roofless abbeys. The spectacle of a dismantled abbey is always full of power for the soul. Art seems fast verging into Nature; the walls arabesqued with ivy; every ledge and " coigne of vantage " occupied by the sweet azure of the harebell, grasses, or yellow hawkweeds; the lines of massive pedestals that mark where sprang the glorious pillars; the broken lacework of the spaces where once were windows; all these things are touching and impressive; wonderful is it how all seem made more eloquent, when, disclosed here and there, though crevice and aperture, we get glimpses of the delicate foliage of the ash. No tree harmonizes so well with dilapidation; the very hue seems a reflection of grey antiquity.



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