An ash tree
Who built it?
Why are you mentioning it?
Have you not been reading the news, the ashes of Britain are threatened? Plague is across the land, pestilence, a massacre of the innocent arboreal masses is taking place. Woe, woe.
Are you going to do the rest of this in a silly Shakespearean style?
Nope. Let's talk pedigree.
Our ash tree is right in the city centre at the back of St Ann's Church, crammed against the tombs. It's a couple of decades old, but you can imagine ash trees on this site stretching back to the last Ice Age. Our buddy has form.
That is old.
Millennia old. Ash trees are native to the UK. They are one of those species that colonised Britain during the time between the end of the Ice Age about 10,000 years ago and the formation of the English Channel a couple of thousand years later. Thus it's a mighty shame that the lovely ash may disappear in Britain due to the much discussed chalara fraxinea fungus or 'ash die back'. Perhaps it's apt that our ash has its roots in bones, it may be joining them soon enough. That also fits with the mythology of the ash.
There are myths about these trees?
Squirrel, God's messengerIndeed. The Norse knew the ash as yggdrasil and the strength of the world, they thought its roots were in hell and its high branches in heaven. The squirrels running up and down the tree were the messengers of the gods. In his fabulous book on the folklore of British flora, From Agar to Zenry, Ron Freethy remarks how priests in the days of early Christianity would hunt red squirrels to prove the animal was not under the protection of false gods. Then there were the shrew ashes.
Shrew ashes, as in the little mouse thingy?
Yes. In former times it was thought that ashes could be magic, or at least medicinal. If there was a lame or ill child in a village it was assumed a shrew, the embodiment of creeping infection, had run over the infant or come into contact with it. So a shrew was caught and placed inside a hollowed out space in one specific ash in the locality, known as the shrew ash. The hole was plugged and the shrew trapped. As the creature died it was thought the child would regain strength. Boughs and leaves of the shrew ash would also be wafted over sick cattle to cure them. Aside from magic the ash has had more practical uses too.
More as a tool. Ash has been the favourite wood over the years for spear shafts, truncheons, cricket bats, hockey sticks, oars, cart spokes, snooker cues and walking sticks. Its flexibility and strength is the key. It's also useful in spring in giving, according to folklore, an insight into the year's weather. This is all about the budding of its leaves: Oak before ash in for a splash/Ash before oak in for a soak. They're distinctive in other ways.
I guess you mean their leaves.
You bet. The leaves are compound arranged on a central stem, five on each side with one like an arrow head at the top. This results in a beautiful, light-filled canopy. Put your back against one in summer, read a book, sip from a hip-flask.
Can you eat them?
Funnily enough you can eat part of the ash tree. The flowers are bisexual and produce seeds known as keys - they hang in bunches. According to Freethy his great grandmother would pickle fat green keys and use as 'a tasty addition to salads' - something I'm going to try.
But this tree is doomed, your salad days are numbered.
I'm hoping not. I'm hoping that the city centre air with its car and bus exhausts and air con pollution and tall buildings will somehow wrap this ash in fungus unfriendly fumes. Make pollution a preserver.
There may be more danger from the mad axeman. This tree looks like it's self-seeded rather than being formally planted. Such a potentially large and tall broadleaf tree would not have been planted on this site.
It's close to the church, it's getting big, so the fear is a bureaucrat with no beauty in his soul will seek to fell it. Let's keep an eye on our lovely ash tree and if it doesn't become infected let's make sure it outlives us all.
How sweet, now, doesn't everybody who writes about trees and flowers always have to give the Latin name? They do. This one is called Biggus Treeus.
Follow Jonathan Schofield here @JonathSchofield
ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL TREE REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL.
The Ash Tree, St Ann's Square. www.thestannsash.com
Trees are rated against the best examples of their kind: bushes against bushes, shrubs against shrubs, major broadleaf varieties against other broadleaf varieties. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip, 16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20.
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