Black ash (Fraxinus nigra Marshall), sometimes called brown ash or basket ash, is an ecologically significant tree species found throughout much of the Great Lakes and northeastern regions of the United States and eastern Canada. Black ash trees grow in forested wetlands such as bogs or swamps or that are flooded for part of the year, along with riparian forests that border streams, rivers or lakes.
In additional to its ecological importance, black ash is also a cultural keystone species for members of many Native American and First Nations tribes. Many generations of basket makers use black ash to create baskets that are both beautiful and useful, and some tribes have spiritual connections to black ash. Unfortunately, black ash is also the most highly preferred and vulnerable host for EAB in North America. Given the ongoing spread of EAB, black ash may effectively be lost from North American forests over the next 20-30 years. This level of mortality is expected to result in serious impacts in black ash ecosystems and will directly impact traditions and a long-standing way of life for many tribal members. In the coming months, we will add an array of information about black ash ecology and its cultural importance to this webpage.
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.
North American Indians of the Great Lakes region (Anishnaabek, Haudenosaunee and others) have long standing relationships with each species of ash tree found in the region. These trees have been used historically in a variety of applications, most notably for constructing black ash baskets (or kokibinaagnan in Anishnaabe)