Monday, September 6, 2010
Wafer Ash, also known as Hop Tree or Stinking Ash, is native to the Southeastern and Midwestern States, its native range does not extend up to Massachusetts, but it is listed as hardy to zone 5A. I’m not sure how this tree got into my yard. It’s not commonly used in the landscape trade and with a name like ‘Stinking Ash’ it’s not likely to be popular. This name refers to the musky odor of its bark and leaves when crushed. In this case, the name is a bit deceiving; I find that, while not pleasant, it does not smell as bad as something like wild Black Cherry.
Wafer Ash grows as a large shrub or small understory tree with irregular branching, usually growing to about 20 feet in height. The seedlings put down a tap root that can make them difficult to pull up. It is native to dry rocky uplands and is very tolerant of shade. These two features make it suitable for growing under a Norway Maple, with its dense network of thirsty roots and dense shade canopy. Wafer Ash prefers neutral soils and is listed as deer highly resistant and tolerant of salt and ‘mine spoils’. The only conditions it does not tolerate are soil compaction and flooding.
In my experience, the Wafer Ash is an excellent North American native understory tree with high wildlife value for dry, shady conditions. While it not commonly available in the landscape trade, there are a few commercial sources. Lacking that, I’ve got a bunch growing in my backyard. (You can reach me through the Adams Garden fan page on Facebook.)