Usefulness and services of the tree :
Features and characters of the individual
Ash trees: facts and stories
Ash trees are legendary in several different cultures, as their wood is hard, resistant and flexible at the same time. It can withstand all manner of shocks without cracking.
In Greek mythology, ash is the wood used for Achilles’s spear and Eros’s bow. It is this species of tree that Zeus is said to have used to create the Men of the Bronze Age – ruthless warriors whose main purpose was war. It is also associated with Poseidon, the god of earthquakes and the so-called ‘earth shaker’, and with Nemesis, the goddess of retribution.
In Scandinavian and Germanic cultures in the past, the reputation of ash trees isn’t as terrifying, but it was still seen as a powerful tree. The Yggdrasil of Norse cosmology was a giant ash tree standing at the centre between the heavens and earth. It was a symbol of immortality. It even manages to resist a serpent-like being gnawing at one of its roots.
Ash trees have also inspired all manner of superstitions. In the past, they have been used for warding off snakes and also evil spirits. Ash can’t be said to repel witches though: the wood of ash trees was supposedly used for their broom handles, because they knew of the wood’s extraordinary qualities.
In fact, those extraordinary qualities have allowed humans to create things like anvil fittings, wheels for carts, hammer handles, stairs, etc.
Did you know?
Ash trees are known as pioneer species, as they can propagate very quickly and easily. They mostly colonise areas around the edge of rivers, but not exclusively.
They produce a very large amount of winged seeds. These seeds can disperse over miles, letting themselves be carried by the wind and river currents.
Underground, ash tree roots don’t leave much room for roots from any other species. This results in very little vegetation growing around them as competition. Therefore, they have a reputation in the countryside for overwhelming the landscape. This is especially true for narrow-leaved ash trees! They are not a native (indigenous) species for our region. As they don’t have many natural adversaries, they are considered an invasive species. In urban environments though, there is little risk of this exotic species invading the tarmac and concrete ground!
The benefits of ash trees
The main role of narrow-leaved ash trees in urban landscapes is decoration. Their foliage is gentle on the eyes. This unusual species adds a touch of diversity to the range of trees planted in the city.
The ample foliage produces oxygen and helps to purify the air in the heart of highly urbanised areas. It is also good at drawing up water, which helps to dry out banks and reduce flooding. Its roots serve to stabilise soil too, limiting erosion on the banks of ponds.
Leaves from ash trees can be prepared in a tea to treat rheumatism. In the 19th century, bark from ash trees was also used in medicines and special drinks that were thought to have medicinal qualities (e.g. remove toxins). These properties continue to be recognised to this day.
How to recognise an ash tree
long (15–25cm), made up of 2–7 pairs of mini leaves (folioles); fall from the tree in autumn (deciduous)
narrow, lance-shaped, with slightly serrated edges
glossy green in spring/summer; bright yellow in autumn; and no foliage in winter
samara, cluster of winged seeds; sometimes visible on the tree in winter
Specifics about this tree
Narrow-leaved ash trees aren’t usually very big. They like sunbathing on riverbanks in the Mediterranean basin.
This ash tree has acclimatised well to Brussels and benefits from an agreeable microclimate that has helped it to flourish, including abundant sunlight and some nice, moist soil. It is happy lazing around next to the Ixelles Ponds. It gets attention for its silhouette and size, especially in autumn when its foliage turns bright yellow.
With a height of 29 m, it rivals the height of neighbouring buildings. It has developed a very dense crown, with its branches falling beautifully like a cascade over the water.
This species is quite rare in Belgium. If you pass by, the ‘weeping’ branches let you have a closer look at the clusters of flat samaras. These seeds each have a large, elongated wing. In the countryside they are called ‘helicopter seeds’.
(Story and photos created by Priscille Cazin- Sylvolutions)
This portrait is:
- Enriched with an illustration from the Belgian Federal State Collection on permanent loan to the Meise Botanical Garden.
- An initiative of Christos Doulkeridis, Mayor of Ixelles , Audrey Lhoest, portfolio holder for Environment, Green Spaces and Planting, and Tourism and the Ixelles Communal executive