Thanks to the Mail for the insert image
A disease as devastating as the outbreak of Dutch elm disease in the 1970s and 1980s may be repeated on our ash trees. The disease, Chalara dieback , Chalara fraxinea (C. fraxinea) a fungus, has already infected or killed some 90 per cent of the ash trees in Denmark, Poland and Lithuania are also badly affected.
Northern Ireland Authorities are banning the importation of all ash seeds, plants and wood with bark attached and certificates will be required to show material comes from disease-free areas. That initiative north and south mimics the approach taken in relation to foot-and-mouth disease some years ago.
Minister of State with responsibility for forestry Shane McEntee signed the necessary protocols recently following evidence that the disease is present in the Republic. It was imported into this State in a consignment of young trees from the Netherlands. Since then, it has been identified in four counties, all linked to imported material. The young plants and adjacent trees have been destroyed.
It was recognised in Britain on imported plants. Since then, evidence has emerged that the disease has spread naturally, by way of wind or birds, along the East coast. Some 83 sites have been identified in England and seven in Scotland. In the UK over 100,000 ash trees have been felled in an effort to stop the spread of the disease and the UK Government has also placed a ban on the import of ash trees.
Lots of them
Ash trees account for 3 per cent of Irish forests. But they make up about 30 per cent of the entire tree population and are found mainly in hedgerows and on well-drained soil. Their loss would be catastrophic, particularly in visual, landscape and environmental terms.
The disease was identified in a forest in Leitrim recently. This was in an area where 5,000 imported ash saplings were planted in 2009. This was part of a batch of 35,000 saplings which were imported at that time. In a major effort to curtail the spread of the disease the entire batch of saplings from the 2009 import has now been identified, felled and destroyed. There are also infected trees in Meath, Monaghan and Galway.
The game of hurling could face a serious dilemma if the disease in ash trees continues to spread. It’s the base of the tree closest to the roots that are traditionally used to make the bats. Both the Irish Government and the authorities in Northern Ireland are closely monitoring the situation and working in tandem with the Irish Guild of Ash Hurley Makers. It is going to be a difficult time for hurley makers who depend on imported ash to a significant degree to manufacture the 350,000 hurleys which are purchased every year in this country. Perhaps the ash can be imported from outside the EU, but that adds more costs to the process. Ultimately any increased costs will have to be borne by the clubs and players.
Helping identify signs of ash tree disease
Stopping spread of Ash Dieback
Only spreads in the summer months and there are no risks to human or animal health. The cost could be high for gardeners who have infected trees on their land as they may be responsible for their removal.
The disease may be spread by:
- movement of diseased ash plants
- movement of logs or untreated wood from infected trees
It is important that you take care when visiting forests, and act appropriately to prevent the spread of tree disease.
Signs of disease
Signs of the disease include:
- diseased saplings typically display dead tops and/ or side shoots
- at the base of dead side shoots, lesions can often be found on the subtending branch or stem
- lesions which girdle the branch or stem can cause wilting of the foliage above
- Mature trees affected by the disease initially display dieback of the shoots and twigs at the periphery of their crowns. Dense clumps of foliage may be seen further back on branches where recovery shoots are produced
The common privet hedge is suspected of spreading the disease. They are a member of the olive family and can harbour the spores in the dropped leaves, releasing them when they fall. Other suspect species in the botanical family, known as Oleaceae, include Mediterranean olive trees, wintersweet and jasmine.
Thanks to Adam Porter for his fantastic tree picture and mystical standing stone in Glebe Desertegney.
Ash Tree Folklore and history
Apart from making Hurleys hard ash wood is used medicinally, for tanning nets, producing furniture, musical instruments and was even used for car bodies. It makes excellent firewood and barbecue or smoking wood.
The ash exudes a sugary substance that, it has been suggested, was fermented to create the Norse Mead of Inspiration. In Norse mythology, the World Tree Yggdrasil is commonly held to be an ash tree, and the first man, Ask, was formed from an ash tree.
Elsewhere in Europe, snakes were said to be repelled by ash leaves or a circle drawn by an ash branch. Irish folklore claims that shadows from an ash tree would damage crops. In the UK it was said that ash could be used to cure warts or rickets and were known as the Widow Maker because the large boughs would often drop without warning.
The Druids believed that oak possessed masculine energy and the thorn feminine energy, the polarities of which were balanced and focused by ash allowing the energies to be readily tapped and directed. In folklore it was believed that the fairies could be seen and conversed with by mortals wherever the three trees grew together. The ancient Irish called the ash tree “nin” and its name was given to the letter “N” in the ogham alphabet.
Folklore and Myths
In folklore and mythology the ash tree has many associations with the gods, such as: Uranus, Poseidon and Thor. The ash tree is also associated with Divination, Prophecy and Inspiration. Odin is said to have hung from an ash tree in order to gain enlightenment before reading the runes. In Scandinavian myth the first man was formed from the ash and the first woman from rowan.
One of the ritual tools of a Witch is the Broom, which traditionally was made by tying the twigs of a Birch tree around a handle made of Ash with strips of Willow. In folklore it was thought that the Ash with its association with water had command over the four elements.
As is the case with most trees, one of the main properties and uses of the ash tree is that of protection. Of old, a staff of ash was hung over doorframes to ward off malign influences, or ash leaves were scattered in the four directions to protect a house or area, or a garter made from its green bark was worn as protection against sorcerers and physic attacks. Ash was also used as protection from snakebites; snakes have an innate fear of the ash tree and will not crawl over its wood.
The Ash had the reputation of magically curing warts, this was done by sticking a new pin in an ash tree then removing it, pricking the wart you wish to remove and then replace the pin back in the tree.
Carved pieces of ash wood shaped into a solar cross (an equal-armed cross) were carried when travelling across sea or water for protection against drowning. Healing wands are also carved out of ash wood and healing poppets can be carved from its roots.
By burning ash wood at Christmas time you will receive prosperity and if you want your newborn child to be a good singer bury its first nail parings under an ash tree. However, given duality in all things not all the ash tree merits are good. The ash tree has a particular affinity with lightning, which it attracts. Under an ash tree is not the place to be during an electrical storm.
The bark of the ash is used as a bitter tonic and astringent, and is said to have been valuable as an anti-periodic, helping intermittent fever, removing obstructions of the liver and spleen, rheumatism of an arthritic nature, help ease dropsy and obesity, and a decoction of the leaves in white wine had the reputation of dissolving stones and curing jaundice. Having ash leaves in a bowl under the bed supposedly helped to keep illness away. The water was discarded every morning in open ground. In some parts of the world the leave were used to feed cattle when grass was scarce in autumn, but when cows eat the leaves or shoots, their butter becomes rank. Leaves were also sewn into small sachets and worn as health or protection charms. To gain the love of the opposite sex, some loose ash leaves were carried in your pockets. Use under instruction!
The ancient physicians had a high regard for ash keys (fruit) and used them as a remedy for flatulence. In more recent times ash key were said to have the “virtue of capers” and were often substituted for them in sauces and salads, or preserved with salt and vinegar and sent to table as a pickle.
Large trees to stay
There is talk that mature trees will not be removed as they are important for wildlife. Efforts will also be made to focus on developing resistance to the disease. And it is hoped trees with genetic resistance to the disease as well as restructuring woodlands will make them more resilient. This has pleased some environmental groups.