Carolina Ash, Pop Ash

09 Jun

Fraxinus caroliniana

(Fraxinus is an ancient name for ash trees.  Caroliniana is self-explanatory.)

Oleaceae (Olive Family)


If you live in Florida and become nostalgic for woods with a “northern feel,” go to the shore of a river and get among species of ash, hickory, jack in the pulpit,  maples, and more.  Feels like Ohio.  Even a little fall color from all the poison ivy.   I always take special pleasure in coming upon Carolina Ash, so much so I invited  one into my yard where it has become a pretty shade tree.

Fraxinus caroliniana 2

Carolina Ash leaves and samaras.   Photos by John Bradford.

Any ash-fancier must dread the exotic Emerald Ash Borer beetle destroying thousands of ashes in northern states.   The pest is expanding southward, and Carolina Ash is likely susceptible along with our other species.  So far so good in Florida.

Fraxinus caroliniana 1

The trees are separately male and female with tiny non-showy wind-pollinated flowers.   As with most wind-pollinated trees, the species is deciduous.  They do not seem at first glance to fit in the Olive Family, as olives have pretty white insect-pollinated flowers and big fleshy fruits.     But if you had a magic transformer wand you could morph an olive into an ash.  All the fundamentals remain the same, just with different points of emphasis.     In fact, there are missing links, including a species of “Flowering Ash” with showy white flowers, and several species where the two sexes have not split into separate individuals.     The most interesting link is olive oil.    Everybody knows olive oil, but I’ll bet Rachel Ray never tried extra virgin ash oil.    In some places edible oil is squeezed from ash seeds, which otherwise have little resemblance to an olive beyond the oil and a single seed.

FRaxinus caeoiniana samaras

Ash fruits look like an olive run over by a steamroller.   The fruits are smashed flat into an elongate green wing with a seed embedded at one end.     Such winged fruits are properly termed samaras, a great name for a sailboat.     The party line in every botany textbook is that “the” function of a samara is to flutter away on the wind  to scater the seeds.    OK, we can stipulate to that, but could there be more to it?

Various botanists over the years have suggested that the big flat green wing helps feed the embryo embedded in it.   Samara wings have been shown to photosynthesize, and thus serve as a solar baby-food makers intimately attached to the baby.  As a subjective observation, the samara veins look like feeding network leading straight to the seed.  Although sporadically discussed and obviously plausible,  the Gerber Hypothesis could use a measure of  hard-data research.  Then the question must be addressed,  and if sustained, does the samara feed the baby even after dropping from the parent tree?


Posted by on June 9, 2017 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “Carolina Ash, Pop Ash

  1. Mal Levittoux

    June 10, 2017 at 4:05 am

    great read, thank you, never thought the olive and ash were related

    • George Rogers

      June 10, 2017 at 12:49 pm

      I’ll bet the Italian ashes are beautiful trees.

  2. theshrubqueen

    June 10, 2017 at 10:05 am

    Wow, contemplating Samaras today. Thanks, George. The Beautyberry mosquito experiment goes on, there is good reason not to rub on skin (Itchy!) however leaves stuffed in shoes and pockets help.


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