|THE MYSTERY TREE: LOOKS LIKE A CONIFER BUT ISN'T...|
|TOP WAS GRAFTED ON A 6' STEM...|
|HAS OPPOSITE BRANCHING...|
|...AND VERY SMALL, FEATHER-COMPOUND LEAVES|
I received several calls within the last few days regarding the identification of a tree on the corner of Second St. and Mannypenny Ave. in Bayfield that was described as a conifer with an unusual shape, like a Florida "monkey puzzle tree." I thought I knew what tree was being referred to but had to check it out to be sure. It will be an interesting tree to those who love trees and love a mystery as well.
First, it is a deciduous tree, not a conifer; it has leaves, not needles, although the leaves are very small, dark green, and densely crowded on the branches.
Second, looking closely, it has opposite branches and feather compound leaves, which would probably make it an ash tree of some kind. But what kind of ash tree?
One that very few people in a northern Wisconsin town would have ever seen, although I had my suspicions.
Upon close inspection, it can be seen that the top was grafted to the branchless trunk at about the height of six feet, so it is a horticultural variety.
It bears no flowers or seeds, so it is either a male ash tree (the ash genus has separate male and female trees) or it is a female tree and the flower buds freeze out this far north.
What tree would fit all these characteristics? After much thought and a little research (and I admit I had been considering the identity of this tree for a while before I was asked the question) the only tree it can be is:
Mana ash, or flowering ash, Fraxinus ornus, in the Olive Family (Oleaceae), It is a tree native to Spain, Italy and the Mideast, and hardy as far north as parts of Poland. It is called Mana ash because when the bark is cut a sweet sap exudes and solidifies which can be collected and eaten, and is theorized to be the "mana from heaven" of the Bible. It is called flowering ash because the female tree bears beautiful blossoms. This tree, since it is grafted, is probably the horticultural variety 'Meczek', developed in Hungary in the1980's.
So there you have it, the mystery tree is a mana ash, Fraxinus ornus 'Meczek', the flower buds of which freeze this far north, although the vegetative tree itself is winter hardy.
How did it get to Bayfield twenty-five or more years ago? My guess is that a shady (pardon the pun) tree nursery had some odd young grafted trees it didn't know what to do with and sold them to an unsuspecting customer, the City of Bayfield. I doubt they were ever expected to live and prosper in northern Wisconsin.