Ash Flowers

White Ash is a dioecious species, with male flowers and female flowers on separate trees, appearing just before the leaves start to emerge, and I was just plain ignorant of how they developed, so watching and photographing them has been a lot of fun. Three of the pictures in this sequence of the male as the buds appear, then open up, and then are dispersing pollen. (The dark clumps we see in winter on ashes are the dried remnants of these male flowers.)When I bumped the branch holding the male flower in the last shot of the sequence, I was showered with pollen.

The photo to the right is of a White Ash female, which is much more slender and graceful than the male. I think of the pistils as slender arms, with the sticky style held aloft, waiting for a pollen grain to land. The stickiness is due to a sugar compound, and that helps fuel the pollen’s sending a tube down the style to fertilize the female. I’m going to try to track the females as they begin the fruiting stage, but it’s hard to keep up with everything flowering at once!

One of the things that really has struck me as I’ve struggled to get clear photos is how constant the wind is this time of year. So wind-pollinated trees not only respond to warmth and lengthening days, but flower at a time when the March winds are ideal for helping them achieve pollination. That’s probably stating the obvious, but the experience of trying to photograph the flowers in wind has really impressed it upon me. Something more to marvel at!

-Tony Russell

(story written on April 3, 2010…so the observations reflect phenology closer to that date.)

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