Of The Ash
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
1. Fraxinus the ash, is with us reputed male and female, the one affecting the higher grounds ; the other the plains, of a whiter wood, and rising many times to a prodigious stature ; so as in forty years from the key, an ash hath been sold for thirty pounds sterling : And I have been credibly inform'd, that one person hath planted so much of this one sort of timber in his life time, as bath been valued worth fifty thousand pounds to be bought. These are pretty encouragements, for a small and pleasant industry. That there is a lower, and more knotty sort, every husbandman can distinguish.
2. The keys or toungs being gathered from a young thriving tree when they begin to fall (which is about the end of October, and the ensuing month) are to be laid to dry, and then sowed any time betwixt that and Christmas ; but not altogether so deep as your somer masts : Thus they do in Spain, from whence it were good to procure some of the keys from their best trees : A very narrow seminary will be sufficient to store a whole country : They will lie a full year in the ground before they appear ; there-fore you must carefully fence them all that time, and have patience : But if you would make a considerable wood of them at once, dig, or plow a parcel of ground, as you would prepare it for corn, and with the corn, especially oats, (or what other grain you think fittest) sow also good store of keys, some crab-kernels, &c. amongst them : Take off your crop of corn, or seed in its season, and the next year following, it will be cover'd with young ashes, which will be fit either to stand (which 1 prefer) or be transplanted for divers years after ; and these you will find to be far better than any you can gather out of the woods (especially suckers, which are worth nothing) being removed at one foot stature (the sooner the better) ; for an ash of two years thus taken out of the nursery, shall outstrip one of ten, taken out of the hedge ; provided you defend them well from cattel, which are exceedingly licorish after their tops : The reason of this hasty transplanting, is to prevent their obstinate and deep rooting ; tantus amor terre which makes them hard to be taken up when they grow older, and that being removed, they take no great hold till the second year, after which, they come away amain ; yet I have planted them of five and six inches diameter, which have thriven as well as the smaller wands. You may accelerate their springing by laying the keys in sand, and some moist fine earth s. s. s. but lay them not too thick, or double, and in a cover'd, though airy place for a winter, before you sow them ; and the second year they will come away mainly ; so you weed, trim and cleanse them. Cut not his head at all (which being young, is pithy) nor, by any means the fibrous part of the roots ; only that down-right, or taproot (which gives our husbandmen so much trouble in drawing) is to be totally abated : But this work ought to be in the increase of October, or November, and not in the Spring. We are (as I told you) willing to spare his head rather than the side branches (which whilst young, may be cut close) because being yet young, it is but of a spungy substance; but being once well fixed, you may cut him as close to the earth as you please ; it will cause him to shoot prodigiously, so as in a few years to be fit for pike-staves ; whereas if you take him wild out of the forest, you must of necessity strike off the head, which much impairs it. Hedge-row ashes may the oftner be decapitated, and shew their heads again sooner than other trees so us'd. Young ashes are sometimes in winter frost-burnt, black as coals, and then to use the knife is seasonable, though they do commonly recover of themselves slowly. In South-Spain, (where, as we said, are the best) after the first dressing, they let them grow till they are so big, as being cleft into four parts, each part is sufficient to make a pike-staff: I am told there is a Flemish ash planted by the Dutchmen in Lincolnshire, which in six years grows to be worth twenty shillings the tree ; but I am not assur'd whether it be the ash or abeele ; either of them were, upon this account, a worthy encouragement, if at least the latter can be thought to bear that price, which I much question : From these low cuttings come our ground-ashes, so much sought after for arbours, espaliers, and other pole-works : They will spring in abundance, and may be reduced to one for a standard-tree, or for timber, if you design it ; for thus hydra-like, a ground-cut-ash,
By havock, wounds and blows, More lively and luxuriant grows.
Ash will be propagated from a bough slipt off with some of the old wood, a little before the bud swells, but with difficulty by layers. Such as they reserve for spears in Spain, they keep shrip'd up close to the stem, and plant them in close order, and moister places. These they cut above the knot (for the least nodosity spoils all) in the decrease of January, which were of the latest for us : It is reported that the ash will not only receive its own kind, but graff, or be inoculated with the pear and apple, but to what improvement I know not.
3. It is by no means convenient to plant ash in plow-lands ; for the roots will be obnoxious to the coulter ; and the shade of the tree is malignant both to corn and grass, when the head and branches over-drip and emaciate 'ern ; but in hedge-rows and plumps, they will thrive exceedingly, where they may be dispos'd at nine or ten foot distance, and sometimes nearer : But in planting of a whole wood of several kinds of trees for timber, every third set at least, would be an ash. The best ash delights in the best land (which it will soon impoverish) yet grows in any ; so it be not over-stiff, wet, and approaching to the marshy, unless it be first well drain'd : By the banks of sweet, and crystal rivers and streams, I have observ'd them to thrive infinitely. One may observe as manifest a difference in the timber of ashes, as of the oak ; much more than is found in any one kind of elm, coeteris paribus : For so the ground-ash (like the oak) much excels a bough, or branch of the same bulk, for strength and toughness ; and in yet farther emulation of the oak, it has been known to prove as good and lasting timber for building, nay, preferr'd before it, where there has been plenty of oak ; vast difference there is also in the strength of ground, and quarter'd ash : 'Tis likewise remarkable that the ash, like the cork-tree, grows when the bark is as it were quite peel'd off, as has been observ'd in several forests, where the deer have bared them as far as they could climb: Some ash is curiously camleted and vein'd, I say, so differently from other timber, that our skilful cabinet-makers prize it equal with ebony, and give it the name of green ebony, which the customer pays well for ; and when our wood-men light upon it, they may make what money they will of it: But to bring it to that curious lustre, so as 'tis hardly to be distinguished from the most curiously diaper'd olive, they varnish their work with the china-varnish, (hereafter described) which infinitely excels linseed-oyl, that Cardan so commends, speaking of this root. The truth is, the bruscum and molluscum to be frequently found in this wood, is nothing inferior to that of maple, (of which here-after) being altogether as exquisitely diaper'd, and wav'd like the gamahes of Achates ; an eminent example of divers strange figures of fish, men and beasts, Dr. Plott speaks of to be found in a dining-table made of an old ash, standing in a gentleman's house somewhere in Oxfordshire : Upon which is mention'd that of Jacobus Gaffarellus, in his book of Unheard-of Curiosities ; namely of a tree found in Holland, which being cleft, had in the several slivers, the figures of a chalice, a priest's albe, his stole, and several other pontifical vestments : Of this sort was the elm growing at Middle-Aston in Oxfordshire, a block of which wood being cleft, there came out a piece so exactly resembling a shoulder of veal, that it was worthy to be reckon'd among the curiosities of this nature.
4. The use of ash is (next to that of the oak it self) one of the most universal : It serves the soldier and mortaises. Also for the cooper, turner, and thatcher : Nothing like it for our garden palisade-hedges, hop-yards, poles, and spars, handles, stocks for tools, spade-trees, &c. In sum, the husbandman cannot be without the ash for his carts, ladders, and other tackling, from the pike to the plow, spear, and how ; for of ash were they formerly made, and there-fore reckon'd amongst those woods, which after long tension, has a natural spring, and recovers its position; so as in peace and war it is a wood in highest request: In short, so useful and profitable is this tree, (next to the oak) that every prudent lord of a mannor, should employ one acre of ground, with ash or acorns, to every 20 acres of other land; since in as many years, it would be more worth than the land it self. There is extracted an oyl from the ash, by the process on other woods, which is excellent to recover the hearing, some drops of it being distill'd warm into the ears ; and for the carier or rot of the bones, tooth-ach, pains in the kidneys, and spleen, the anointing therewith is most soveraign. Some have us'd the saw-dust of this wood instead of guiacum, with success. The chymists exceedingly commend the seed of ash to be an admirable remedy for the stone : But (whether by the power of magick or nature, I determine not) I have heard it affirm'd with great confidence, and upon experience, that the rupture to which many children are obnoxious, is healed, by passing the infant thro' a wide cleft made in the bole or stern of a growing ash-tree, thro' which the child is to be made pass ; and then carried a second time round the ash, caused to repass the same aperture again, that the cleft of the tree sufFer'd to close and coalesce, as it will, the rupture of the child, being carefully bound up, will not only abate, but be perfectly cur'd. The manna of Calabria is found to exsude out of the leaves and boughs of this tree, during the hot summer-months. Lastly, the white and rotten dotard part composes a ground for our gallants sweet-powder, and the trunchions make the third sort of the most durable coal, and is (of all other) the sweetest of our forest-fuelling, and the fittest for ladies chambers, it will burn even whilst it is green, and may be reckoned amongst the űKarva Z(,Xa. To conclude, the very dead leaves afford (like those of the elm) relief to our cattle in winter ; and there is a dwarf-sort in France, (if in truth it be not, as I suspect, our witchentree) whose berries feed the poor people in scarce years ; but it bears no keys, like to ours, which being pickled tender, afford a delicate salading. But the shade of the ash is not to be endur'd, because the leaves produce a noxious insect ; and for displaying themselves so very late, and falling very early, not to be planted for umbrage or ornament ; especially near the garden, since (besides their predacious roots) the leaves dropping with so long a stalk, are drawn by clusters into the worm-holes, which foul the allies with their keys, and suddenly infect the ground. Note, that the season for felling of this tree must be when the sap is fully at rest ; for if you cut it down too early, or over-late in the year, it will be so obnoxious to the worm, as greatly to prejudice the timber; therefore to be sure, fell not till the three mid-winter months, beginning about November : But in lopping of pollards, (as of soft woods) Mr. Cook advises it should be towards the Spring, and that you do not suffer the lops to grow too great : Also, that so soon as a pollard comes to be considerably hollow at the head, you suddenly cut it down, the body decaying more than the head is worth : The same he pronounces of taller ashes, and where the wood-peckers make holes (who constantly indicate their being faulty) to fell it in the Winter. I am astonish'd at the universal confidence of some, that a serpent will rather creep into the fire, than over a twig of ash ; this is an old imposture of Pliny's, who either took it up upon trust, or we mistake the tree. Other species, see Ray Dendrolog. t. in. lib. xxx. p. 95. De fraxino, t. II. p. 1704.