Emerald Ash Borer Affects More Than our Landscapes

February 3, 2022

As Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) becomes more of a reality, we have to think of not only the loss of ornamental value absence of ash trees will create, but also the effects the lack of the harvested wood will cause. Ash is used for many purposes included flooring, snowshoes, oars, baseball bats, tool handles, and hockey sticks, just to name a few. The wood is strong, yet lightweight, and resists shock. These products are usually made from white ash, Fraxinus americana.

A far less common ash is brown ash, sometimes called black ash, Fraxinus nigra. Often found growing in swamps,or other wet areas, brown ash is native to the Northeastern U.S. and Eastern Canada. This ash is threatened with near total extinction due to EAB.

Brown ash is unique to all trees in North America in that it does not have fibres connecting to the growth rings of each other. This is a useful property for basket makers. By pounding on the wood with a mallet, the newer spring wood layer is crushed, allowing the tougher and darker summer wood layer to be peeled off into strips. The strips are trimmed, cleaned, and used in basket weaving.
Maine’s Wabanaki people, indigenous to the region, have used the ash baskets as part of their culture. An arrow was shot into a tree and “out of the tree came the people.” I think this is certainly an indication of significant cultural importance! The fact that EAB creates not only great horticultural risks, but also a major threat to a native culture, the State and the USDA are putting a bit more attention into EAB now that they realize the issue is a reality. Many of the baskets, made by various Wabanaki people, are really considered a valuable art form and as a result some have been priced similar to many museum pieces. It will be a shame when this priceless art is no longer able to be made.

The damage EAB is doing to our landscapes goes far beyond that of ornamental trees in our yards.

— by Phil Caldwell, a past president of NHLA (1989) who now lives and works in Maine.  

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