The season has indeed turned to fall now and with it turn the leaves. Dogwoods are decked in deep reds with scarlet berries, tulip poplars shine with bright gold and maples are turning crimson. But what is that tree in shades of bronze-violet touched with wine and chocolate? Or is it really maroon fading to lavender and pale yellow that we see? These are the colors of the White Ash in Autumn: elusive, subtle and uniquely beautiful in a season otherwise full of flash and brassiness.
Fraxinus americana, the White Ash, is a large, deciduous tree that can attain 100 feet in height and 75 feet in width. Its shape is upright but becomes more rounded and open as the tree matures. The leaves are compound (similar to pecan trees) and lustrous green on top with pale undersides. In early autumn they display a palette of lovely, understated colors rarely seen on other fall foliage.
The White Ash is a beautiful shade tree that may grow to impressive proportions and therefore makes a wonderful tree for large lawns and parks. It does best on deep, well drained soils but will tolerate other soils if they're not too dry. Full sun allows for the best quality foliage and growth. Ash trees are unfortunately the favorite of a number of insects and diseases and have, in recent years, been the victims of an as yet not fully understood Ash decline. However, a healthy, vigorously growing tree will not generally be troublesome, and as long as any early signs of distress are treated, will give many years of beauty in a landscape.
The fruit of any Ash tree is a one-winged 'samara' - just like a Maple's "whirligig" but with only one wing. Ash trees bear male and female flowers on separate trees and only the female flowers develop into fruits. Purchasing male trees will prevent you from having to deal with the fruits which can be a bit of a nuisance near a walkway. It is worth considering planting female Ash trees though, because the fruits are born in clusters among the foliage and add a sophisticated note of unusual dimension to the trees in late summer.
There are many fine vegetatively propagated cultivars of White Ash available in the nursery trade. Do make certain that you have not mistaken White Ash for Fraxinus pennsylvanica, the Green Ash, however. The Green Ash is another good tree which is actually more adaptable to many urban landscape conditions but is less beautiful in the Fall and is almost identical in appearance to the White Ash in other seasons, especially as a young tree. The cultivars of White Ash are generally much more desirable than seedling trees and are well worth seeking out. A few of the many excellent ones include: 'Autumn Applause' - known for its maroon fall color, dense branching and gracefully drooping foliage, 'Autumn Blaze' - a female selection with purple fall color, 'Autumn Purple' - a male with excellent displays of purple-red foliage in the fall, and 'Chicago Regal' - a vigorous grower which develops purple fall color with , what Dr. Michael Dirr describes as, "earthtones", as well.
As our eye travels across the fall landscape feasting on rich and brilliant colors, the White Ash offers a brief vision of light and subtle refreshment. Antique hues blend together in the White Ash foliage to create a watercolor unlike those of any of autumn's other Arboreal artists. Planting White Ash will bring the subtle beauty of its soft autumn dress to your lawns and gardens like an Impressionist painting brings to the walls of an art gallery.