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Tree 30: Raywood Ash

Latin name: Fraxinus angustifolia ’Raywood’
Family: Oleaceae
Other names: Claret Ash
Origin: Australia
Height: to 20 metres
Lifespan: on average to 80 years
Autumn leaf loss: Deciduous
Gender Type: Monoecious (Male and female flowers on same tree)

This cultivar is commonly planted as an ornamental tree in temperate regions and is popular as a park and roadside tree in urban environments. Its most striking and attractive feature is generally considered to be its foliage. Throughout the summer, the narrow, serrated leaves are dark green and glossy providing dappled shade below but they really come into their own in the Autumn when they turn brilliant hues of purple and wine-red. The tree’s wood quality is, however, inferior compared to other ash species (a major drawback being its very brittle branches) and in consequence it is mainly used for producing pulpwood and products such as veneer, laminate and plywood. The sap, though, when crystallized by the wind, is called ‘manna’ and used as a sweetener and in medicine. Today, this product is only produced in Sicily, Italy.

The tree is an ash cultivar that originated from south Australia around about 1910 where it was grown at a property called ’Raywood’. It was not introduced to the UK until 1928 meaning that the Whirlow Brook specimen was not part of the original planting when the park was laid out. It is a medium sized, fast growing, deciduous tree that has a narrow, upright crown when young and broadens into a full, rounded canopy as it matures.

This narrow-leaved ash grows best in mild climates, particularly in lowland areas, on moist soils along streams and rivers. It also thrives on well-drained slopes, in mixed deciduous forests where it contributes to a rich biodiversity. The tree is a light-demanding species and is able to colonize disturbed areas. As with the common ash, narrow-leaved ash is sensitive to the Chalara fraxinea fungus and has lately suffered from the ash dieback.