The European Ash (Fraxinus excelsior),, is a tall deciduous tree, native to most of Europe with the exception of northern Scandinavia. Ash occurs on a wide range of soil types, but is particularly associated with basic soils on calcareous substrates.
It is a deciduous tree 20 - 35 m tall, and is readily distinguished from other species of ash in that it has black buds, unlike the brown buds of most other ashes. The leaves are 20 - 35 cm long, pinnate compound, with 9 - 13 leaflets. The leaves of the European Ash are often among the last to open in spring, and the first to fall in autumn if an early frost strikes.
The wind pollinated flowers open before the leaves, the female flowers being somewhat longer than the male flowers; they are dark purple, and without petals. Both male and female flowers can occur on the same tree, but it is common to find all male and all female trees.
Surprisingly, a tree that is all male one year can produce female flowers the next, and similarly a female tree can become male. The female flowers develop into fruits, and because they hang in bunches the fruits of the ash tree are known as 'ash keys'.
It was probably the most versatile wood in the countryside with wide-ranging uses until the second world war the trees were coppiced on a ten year cycle to provide a sustainable source of timber for fuel and poles for building and woodworking.
The colour of the wood ranges from creamy white through light brown, and the heart wood may be darker olive-brown. Ash timber is hard, tough and very hard-wearing, with a coarse open grain. Because of its high flexibility, shock-resistance and resistance to splitting Ash wood is the traditional material for bows, tool handles, especially for hammers and axes, tennis rackets and snooker cues. Ash is valuable as firewood because it burns well even when 'green' (freshly cut). Ash was coppiced, often in hedgerows, and evidence in the form of some huge boles with multiple trunks emerging at head height can still be see in parts of Britain. Because of its elasticity European Ash wood was commonly used for walking sticks.