White Ash (Fraxinus americana)

Northwest of the Bird Sanctuary Map

On the extreme outskirts of the Bird Sanctuary grove stands this mature specimen of an important native North American tree. Its identifying characteristics are a compound leaf with five to nine ~1.5 in. leaflets, and deeply furrowed grayish bark forming a distinct diamond pattern. Trees in its natural range (eastern North America, from Nova Scotia to Florida) sometimes attain heights of more than 100 ft and live for hundreds of years. Ours seems to be prospering, after perhaps 80 years of life.

The wood of Fraxinus americana is highly prized for sporting equipment because of its unusual resistance to shock. It is the primary material of baseball bats; Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and - yes - Barry Bonds all have wrapped their hands around implements made from white ash. Benvie, in his Encyclopedia of North American Trees, alludes to certain beneficial health properties of white ash. Apparently liquid from its leaves helps ease the discomfort of mosquito bites, and crushed ash leaves carried in the pocket are said to exude an odor that repels rattlesnakes. (However, when hiking in eastern Washington, you might still consider wearing high-topped boots.)

Grant and Grant dismiss the white ash as of "no great garden merit", but other authorities praise its fall color display. The author finds its bark pattern peculiarly absorbing, almost hypnotic. Stare at it at your own risk.