Plant of the Month – Oregon Ash
October 16, 2021
Grays skies of October welcomely wet,
wool sweaters and boots return,
dust and wildfire smoke retreat.
And under this muted lid,
a pool of green gold
in the lay of the land,
the lowland fold.
Bright against moody Doug fir and dark oak bough,
singing clear near bleached field grasses,
a stand of Oregon ash lights up the October day
in its uniquely Oregon way.
For years I’ve arrived home unheeding of the Oregon ash street tree
standing sentinel over my threshold.
The things we take for granted.
Reports of summer’s heat wave stresses, deaths:
spruces, katsuras, western red cedar gone,
countered by the resilience of Oregon ash,
a beacon of fresh green post 116 degree blast.
And who else grows proud in ground winter saturated / summer parched?
Who else glows untamed in autumn valleys?
Subtly but truthfully, Oregon too boasts fall color.
Clear yellow from green,
upright growing and lean,
with winged seeds for winter birds,
dappled shade for summer days.
Oregon ash is not the shocking autumn gold of the popular green ash, planted plentifully roadside, eliciting gasps, not the smolder and glow of raywood or autumn purple ash, but she’s ours and worth a second look.
Spontaneous growth encircled by runners on the Amazon trail,
blued by camas every May,
it’s Oregon ash that hold the key,
unlocking lowland habitat.
We’d do well to learn from the wild
by planting this native in winter wet yards so common around town.
My ash stands cloaked in rambling rose,
decorated by tangled nests and alive with chirps and song.
I used to think it was just the rose, but now know it’s ash
who feeds and shelters.
To butterfly larvae, finches, and scampering squirrels
Oregon ash is home.
Know this tree by it’s leaves
leaflets patterned opposite each other on their stalk.
And by it’s samaras,
lovely word meaning “winged seed”,
hanging in heavy clusters.
I once saw birds plucking high in the ash,
feasting on those half helicopter seeds,
too high to id,
or maybe I was just lazy, distracted, rushed.
Next time I’ll slow, pay attention and let the novelty enrich my day.
Our kind like to live near rivers in valleys,
so too do Oregon ash,
with fibrous roots colonizing wet,
standing tall for three of our lifetimes or more.
Farm and pasture edged with ribbons of Oregon ash
along slough and stream
feed beavers, nutria, deer, elk.
In your small backyard,
let a single tree resonate,
mirror the wild,
shelter and feed,
and drink deep the autumn rains.