Black ash (Fraxinus nigra Marshall), also known as brown or basket ash, is a unique tree that is most often found in wet, swampy forests and riparian forests that border streams, rivers, and lakes. Its native range extends across much of the north central and northeastern United States, and southeastern Canada1. Today, black ash is mostly found in northern portions of the Lake States (MN, WI, MI) as well as NY, PA, and ME. Black ash is an ecological foundational species because of its role in nutrient cycling and hydrological processes, and the habitat it provides for various birds and other animals in forests where it is dominant.
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Black ash is also considered a cultural keystone species for many American Indian and First Nations groups throughout its range.2,3 For generations, basketmaking families have created artistic and utilitarian baskets with splints from black ash sapwood. Black ash is also revered as a spiritual resource and a source of Indigenous medicines for several Indigenous groups.
Unfortunately, black ash is a highly preferred and vulnerable host for emerald ash borer in North America. Given the current distribution and the ongoing spread of EAB, there is concern that black ash could be lost from North American forests by mid-century.4,5 Loss of black ash overstory trees will likely affect wetland and riparian forest ecosystems and will directly impact the ways of life of Indigenous people who have been using black ash for basketry for millennia.2,6
Click here to learn more about indigenous black ash basketry pratices and the traditions surrounding black ash.
Emerald ash borer (EAB) infestation is a major concern for American Indian people. Many American Indian cultures and traditions rely on ash trees for the wood needed for making baskets, lacrosse sticks, pipe stems, flutes, and medicinal remedies. The ash tree is a central figure in some traditional and religious stories told by several American Indian tribes.
National Museum of the American Indian magazine, Spring 2020, "A Silent Killer", by Anne Bolen, pages 8-15, (copyright symbol) 2020 Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian. Shared with permission.