Get to know the Species

The narrow-leaved ash tree: a tree that can live more than 200 years

How many trees have the privilege of inspiring village names or even of becoming part of a legend? The narrow-leaved ash tree (Fraxinus angustifolia) that lives more than 200 years is one of such species and can be found all over the country.

 You probably came across the word ash tree (freixo) used to name of a Portuguese village or hamlet, not least because its toponymy is there in around 20 villages. As regards the origin of the village of Freixo de Espada à Cinta (Ash Tree Holding a Sword) in the Douro region, for example, legend has it that in the 14th century, king of Portugal D. Dinis tied his sword to an ash tree next to the Castle Tower of this town and leaned on it to rest in its shade and regain strength after a battle.

Legends aside, the longevity of the narrow-leaved ash tree, also known as ash or common ash tree, is another outstanding characteristic of this tree. This fast-growing tree can grow for centuries and live more than 200 years. To prove, in the parish of Vila Cã, in Pombal, there is a specimen classified of public interest by the ICNF given its age – 500 years old. But what do we know about this species?

Indigenous from the western Mediterranean, southern Europe, northwest Africa and southwest Asia, it grows spontaneously throughout the country. The ash tree belongs to the Oleaceae family and is a medium-sized deciduous tree that can reach 25 meters in height, although the average height is between 10 and 15 metres.

It has a dark and straight trunk, albeit short. The bark is grey, rough and with quite deep cracks with a wide and dense oval crown with several branches. The branches, few in number, are equally greyish.

As for the spread of this species, it happens through seeds and its flowers usually appear in the spring, before the leaves, and pollination occurs with the help of the wind. Trees are between 15 and 25 cm long. The fruit (samara) has a brown-yellow colour and a terminal wing, which assists in dispersing the wind. It reaches maturity in September.

The narrow-leaved ash tree can be  easily found in the highlands in the banks of watercourses. It can even appear in chalky or siliceous soils and prefers deep and humid soils. It grows in areas up to 1700 meters high, although it grows mostly in areas between 5 and 190 m in Portugal. It is worth mentioning that this species tolerates a large temperature spectrum, faring well in mild and Mediterranean climates with some atmospheric humidity.



Did you know that…

The scientific designation of ash tree is associated with its morphological characteristics, in particular its leaves. The genus Fraxinusiss, the classic name for ash tree, derives from the Greek word” phraxis”, which means hedge, while the ending angustifolia means “narrow leaf”. But only its leaflets are narrow (linear-lanceolate) and not its leaf which is composite.

It is a very resistant species to cold and winds, but not to salinity. Still, it is common in areas close to the coast, such as lagoon areas in the Baixo Vouga region.

In Portalegre (Marvão) there is the magnificent Alameda dos Freixos along the National Highway 246-1,featuring around 300 centenary ash trees classified of public interest, on both sides of the road. Intense traffic puts the preservation of this species at risk and the ICNF is currently considering the possibility of creating a traffic alternative to this road.

Its long roots act as a good means of support in soils and slopes near watercourses, such as ditches and rivers, thus helping the reduction of erosion and regularisation of water flows during flood peaks.

The narrow-leaved ash tree is usually used in hedges to separate fields or farmland and is also used as an ornamental species in parks and gardens, particularly near water surfaces. Its wood is widely used in furniture and in applications of solid wood or for coating purposes, but also in sports equipment, tool-handles, among other everyday uses. But the use of its leaves, bark and seeds goes beyond some of the aforementioned uses: they are traditionally used in popular medicine to combat fever, and help in rheumatic conditions and wound healing.

  • Narrow-leaf ash tree

    Fraxinus angustifolia Vahl.

  • Plant

  • Genus:


  • Family:


  • Conservation status:

    Not Evaluated (NE)

  • Habitat:

    It grows on the banks of running watercourses and forests, flood plains and valleys, and in deciduous forests. It can reach up to 1700 meters in height.

  • Distribution:

    Species originating in Southern Europe, North Africa and Western Asia, growing spontaneously throughout the Portuguese territory.

  • Height/Length:

    It measures about 15 meters, but can reach 25 meters.

  • Longevity:

    It can live more than 200 years

How to tend to this species?

One of the two habitats of the Natura 2000 Network in which the narrow-leaved ash occurs is duly identified and located in The Navigator Company proprieties – habitat 91B0 – Thermophilic ash tree groves of Fraxinus angustifolia – scattered all over the country. With biodiversity management in mind, the identification of these habitats as Protected Areas allows their delimitation and the establishment of protection measures and recovery of their conservation status.

Other Navigator properties in which this species can be found includes Meirinhos, Malcata, Penamacor, Idanha-a-Nova, Vale do Tejo (Nisa, Tomar) and, although rarer, in the Southwest Alentejo.

Quinta de São Francisco, considered a unique biodiversity refuge, just 10 minutes from the centre of Aveiro and where more than 450 species of flora can be observed, includes trees and shrubs and also ash trees (Fraxinus angustifolia). Planted in 2016, the year it was reintroduced on this farm to recover the riparian line, its management aims first and foremost to preserve this biodiversity hotspot, prevent and mitigate risks, maintain and improve habitats and ensure the presence and the good health of the many species growing there.