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Fraxinus americana is a rapidly growing tree suited to parkland plantings, where cultivars selected for yellow, orange or bronze autumn colour are highly valued.

Fraxinus americana (white ash)

[KSP]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description
White ash is a rapidly growing timber tree native to eastern North America. Its shock-resistant timber is used for tool handles and baseball bats.

Fraxinus americana is a rapidly growing tree suited to parkland plantings, where cultivars selected for yellow, orange or bronze autumn colour are highly valued.

The timber has readily marketable qualities - it is hard, heavy, and shock-resistant and used extensively for tool handles, baseball bats, furniture and also as fuel wood. Native Americans used different parts of the plant for a variety of medicinal purposes including relief from insect bites, cure for fevers, an aphrodisiac, and appetite stimulant.

The tree supports a wide variety of wildlife in its native North America, and the tendency of the trunk to form cavities makes it ideal for woodpecker nesting holes. Larger cavities may be used by owls, wood duck, nuthatches or grey squirrels.

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

White ash is native to eastern North America, ranging from eastern Minnesota, southern Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, south to Texas and northern Florida.

Description

Fraxinus americana is a fine timber tree up to about 30 m in height, with a long, straight trunk and a rounded crown at maturity. The bark is dark grey with a uniform diamond-shaped ridge and furrow pattern.

The leaves are deciduous, dropping in the autumn. They occur in opposite pairs, each leaf divided into seven or nine (rarely five) leaflets. The leaflets are dark green above and usually appear white beneath due to a waxy coating.

The green or purplish flowers are minute and occur in clusters near the tips of the branches. Male and female flowers are borne on different trees. The fruits are winged, 2.5-5 cm long and pendant (hang) in clusters.

Threats and conservation

The emerald ash borer ( Agrilus planipennis ), a beetle native to Asia, is a serious threat to Fraxinus species in North America. It is thought to have been introduced to North America in wooden packing material and in 2002 was identified as the cause of the decline and mortality of ash trees that had been noted in the Detroit (Michigan) metropolitan area. It has since caused extensive damage to ash trees in the USA and Canada, killing an estimated 30 million trees. It has now been discovered in the region of Moscow and there is concern it could spread to the rest of Europe, leading to further economic and ecological damage. Much work is hence being carried out to prevent the spread of this beetle to protect ash trees.

Uses Timber

White ash (also known as American ash or American white ash in the timber trade) is one of the most valuable timber trees of North America. It is used for making furniture, flooring and tool handles. Its most famous use is for making baseball bats, hockey sticks and tennis racquets. Native American Indians used the wood to make spears and the bark to make canoes.

Medicinal

Traditionally, decoctions of the bark were used to treat a wide variety of complaints, including digestive system disorders and skin diseases. The roots were used as a poultice to treat snakebites, whereas juice from the leaves was used to treat mosquito bites. Settlers arriving from Europe continued to harvest white ash from the wild for medicinal uses. Even as late as the 1960s it was being harvested on a considerable scale, helping to supplement rural incomes in regions such as the Appalachian Mountains.

Ornamental

White ash is planted as an ornamental tree in parks and large gardens. Cultivars such as Fraxinus americana 'Autumn Purple' provide a variety of autumn leaf colours.

Land reclamation

Fraxinus americana is able to colonise soils with high concentrations of heavy metals, making it suitable for reclaiming mine sites in North America.

Millennium Seed Bank: Saving seeds

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

Stored seeds of Fraxinus americana behave in an orthodox manner (meaning the seeds will survive the drying and freezing process), and 70 collections are held in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst in West Sussex.

See Kew's Seed Information Database for further information on F. americana seeds

Cultivation

White ash is a rapidly-growing timber tree suitable for planting in parklands and plantations. It was introduced to the UK in 1724, where it has the advantage of surviving both drier and frostier conditions than Britain's native ash ( Fraxinus excelsior ).

This species at Kew

White ash can be seen growing to the north-west of the Palm House at Kew.

Pressed and dried specimens of Fraxinus americana are held in Kew's Herbarium where they are available to researchers by appointment.

Specimens of the wood, bark, root and fruits of white ash, as well as baskets and a billiard cue made from it, are held in Kew's Economic Botany Collection in the Sir Joseph Banks Building, where they are available to researchers by appointment.

Distribution
USA
Ecology
Upland deciduous hardwood forests.
Conservation
Least Concern (LC) according to IUCN Red List criteria.
Hazards

None known.

[KSP]
Use
Timber, timber products, fuelwood, ornamental, medicinal.

Native to:

Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mexico Northeast, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode I., South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin

Introduced into:

Bulgaria, Colorado, Hawaii, Korea, Romania, Spain

English
White ash

Fraxinus americana L. appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status
Ashe, W.W. [13], Georgia (USA) K000901735

First published in Sp. Pl.: 1057 (1753)

Accepted by

  • Ackerfield, J. (2015). Flora of Colorado: 1-818. BRIT Press.
  • Bailey, C. & al. (2015). Guide to the Vascular Plants of Tennessee: 1-813. University of Tennessee press.
  • Chang, C.S., Kim, H. & Chang, K.S. (2014). Provisional checklist of vascular plants for the Korea peninsula flora (KPF): 1-660. DESIGNPOST.
  • Govaerts, R. (2001). World Checklist of Seed Plants Database in ACCESS E-F: 1-50919.
  • López Patiño, E.J., Szeszko, D.R., Rascala Pérez, J. & Beltrán Retis, A.S. (2012). The flora of the Tenacingo-Malinalco-Zumpahuacán protected natural area, state of Mexico, Mexico Harvard Papers in Botany 17: 65-167.
  • Villaseñor, J.L. (2016). Checklist of the native vascular plants of Mexico Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 87: 559-902.
  • Vladimirov, V., Dane, F. & Kit Tan (eds.) (2015). New floristic records in the Balkans: 28 Phytologia Balcanica 21: 367-399.
  • Wallander, E. (2008). Systematics of Fraxinus (Oleaceae) and evolution of Dioecy Plant Systematics and Evolution 273: 25-49.

Literature

Kew Species Profiles

  • Bean, W. J. (1981). Trees & Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles, 8th ed., Vol. 2 (D-M). John Murray, London.
  • CAB International (2012). Invasive Species Compendium (Agrilus planipennis). CAB International, Wallingford, UK.
  • Gibson, D. J. (1982). The natural revegetation of lead/zinc mine spoil in northeastern Oklahoma. The Southwestern Naturalist 27: 425-436.
  • Krochmal, A. (1968). Medicinal plants and Appalachia. Economic Botany 22: 333-337.
  • Moerman, D. E. (2009). Native American Medicinal Plants: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
  • Wallander, E. (2008). Systematics of Fraxinus (Oleaceae) and evolution of dioecy. Plant Systematics and Evolution 273: 25–49.

Kew Backbone Distributions

  • Ackerfield, J. (2015). Flora of Colorado: 1-818. BRIT Press.
  • Aymerich, P. (2019). Notes sobre flora allòctona a Catalunya. II Butlletí de la Institució Catalana d’Història Natural 83: 3-21.
  • Chang, C.S., Kim, H. & Chang, K.S. (2014). Provisional checklist of vascular plants for the Korea peninsula flora (KPF): 1-660. DESIGNPOST.
  • USDA, NRCS (2005- continuously updated). Natural Resources Conservation Services Plant Database http://plants.usda.gov/cgi_bin/topics.cgi?earl=checklist.html.
  • Villaseñor, J.L. (2016). Checklist of the native vascular plants of Mexico Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 87: 559-902.
  • Vladimirov, V., Dane, F. & Kit Tan (eds.) (2015). New floristic records in the Balkans: 28 Phytologia Balcanica 21: 367-399.

Herbarium Catalogue Specimens
Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Kew Backbone Distributions
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Science Photographs
Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Kew Species Profiles
Kew Species Profiles
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0