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The Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra) is a popular basketry woodsplint material. The common names of the tree include Black Ash, Brown Ash, hoop ash, swamp ash, water ash, basket ash, wikp (Maliseet), Wiskoq (Micmac) and FrÍne noir (Que). It is a member of the Olive (Oleaceae) family. It is generally a fairly small tree with an upright oval crown. It rarely reaches over 50ft. (16 m.) or a diameter of over 12 in. (30 cm.). The Black Ash grows in wet areas where there is full sun. It does not tolerate shade, but does like its feet wet. It will often be found in wooded swamps at higher altitudes. It grows well in open stands of eastern white cedar, yellow birch, red maple and other swamp hardwoods.

It is deciduous with compound, alternately pinnate leaflets. The leaflets number 7-11 and are 5-6.4 cm. long, toothed and sessile. It has compound leaves that are light green on the surface and darker green beneath with pointed leaflets that turn yellow in the fall. Unlike white ash, it has no stem connecting the leaflet to the main stem.

The tree is in flower during April and May. Black ash is polygamous; its flowers are small and inconspicuous. The fruit is a flat samara (the actual seed plus the wing that it is attached to), winged to the base and blunt on both ends. The samara is oblong and has a much broader seed cavity than the white ash. The seeds are ripe in September and can hang on the tree until late fall.

The circular (or nearly so) branches distinguish Fraxinus nigra from the 4-sided branches of Blue ash (Fraxinus quadrangulata). The nearly circular leaf scars, sessile leaflets and flat samaras winged to the base of Fraxinus nigra distinguish it from the half circle leaf scars, slightly petioled leaflets and wedge-shaped samaras with a flat wing of Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica).

The bark of mature trees is gray, furrowed and corky with papery scales that rub off easily. The series of pictures on Ontario Trees demonstrates how the bark changes qualities as the tree grows from sapling to full grown. The trunk of the tree frequently will have lichen growth owing to the moist conditions where the tree is likely to grow.

The Black Ash ranges from western Newfoundland west to southeastern Manitoba and eastern North Dakota; south to Iowa; east to southern Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia; and north from northern Virginia to Delaware and New Jersey.

It is a ring-porous wood which allows the growth rings to be pounded into woodsplints, making it ideal for use as a basketry splint and seat bottoming material. Each growth ring of the tree has a porous open area between it and the next year's growth ring. This porous area is the Spring growth of the tree and the dense Summer growth is what is usable as splint.

If you would like to plant your own trees contact your state forestry program to see if they include Black Ash in their seedling sales program or contact a nursery such as Highland Hill Farm to purchase seedlings. Of course you will have to be patient if you plan to grow your own basket tree, but you can help maintain a continuing source of material for the generations to come by planting some now. The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) is a serious insect threat to all native ashes. Watch a video that touches on this major threat to a way of life that is posed by the Emerald Ash Beetle, an invasive species of wood boring beetle, native to China and eastern Asia, which targets ash trees. If you would like to help prevent the spread of this invasive beetle from China be certain not to transport firewood and consider participating in the National Ash Tree Seed Collection Initiative to ensure the Black ash tree does not disappear forever in the event the emerald ash borer cannot be contained. Learn how to protect your own ash trees from EAB.

Next time, we will investigate the process of selecting, harvesting and preparing black ash woodsplint for use as a splint material. If you know of material regarding black ash basketry not mentioned here, post your comment to the board or contact me.

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