The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, once said “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago.” While that’s all fine and good and I’m happy that the next generation gets to enjoy the things we grew, most of us would like to enjoy shade in our lifetimes too! If you too want to plant your own shade, one of the best rapidly growing shade tree choices for the Panhandle is the majestic Florida native Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica).
Green Ash is a large (50-100’ tall), oval-shaped, deciduous shade tree native to the entire eastern half of North America, but best of all for those of us craving shade, it grows to its mature height in a relative hurry. While most trees that grow extremely fast tend to be inherently weak and short-lived, this is not the case with Green Ash. Capable of growing 6-10’ in a single year if irrigated and fertilized appropriately and often living well over 100 years, there aren’t many plants in the Panhandle that grow quicker or live longer.
There’s much more to Green Ash than growth rate and life span, however. The tree is also one of the prettiest around. Come on, you didn’t think I’d recommend an ugly plant, did you? A look up into the canopy at different times of the year and one can see the tree’s deep, dark green foliage, good-for-Florida yellowish fall color, and slightly showy light green seed pods. Below, the straight trunk is laced with distinctive diamond-shaped bark that hints at the extremely high-quality wood underneath. Fun fact, Ash is historically the most popular wood used to make baseball bats due to its hardness at a relatively light weight – more MLB home runs have been hit with Ash than any other species!
As a Florida-Friendly plant, Green Ash is fairly low-maintenance and provides many environmental services. The species, like any other plant, requires supplemental water and fertilizer during the establishment period, generally the first year or so after planting, but doesn’t demand much else from gardeners after that. Green Ash specimens in Florida also don’t have much in the way of pest problems (the invasive Emerald Ash Borer has devastated ash populations in northern states but thankfully has not yet been found in Florida). However, as a host plant for several native pollinators, including the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak, Orange Sulphur, and Viceroy Butterflies, you may occasionally find caterpillars munching away on the tree’s foliage. If you can handle a little leaf damage, try to leave any caterpillars alone and enjoy the stunning butterflies they later morph into!
Green Ash is a beautiful, ultra-adaptable shade tree. Though the species prefers moist areas, there aren’t many sites the tree can’t thrive in. Do you have a low-lying area near a swamp or stream that stands in water from time to time? Great! Green Ash will thrive. Do you need a street tree to survive in a harsh environment with a cramped root zone surrounded by concrete? Green Ash will be right at home there as well. Green Ash is simply a classic shade tree with many interesting attributes that improves the look of any landscape it occupies. Plant one today!
For more information about Green Ash, other shade tree species, or any other horticultural/agricultural topic, contact us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension office.