Jim Abbot, adjunct professor of classics, talks about Agnes Scott’s historic white ash.
This immense white ash (Fraxinus americana, next to the parking lot) is thought to be older even than the College, founded in 1889. These trees can live much longer: an ash that George Washington is thought to have planted in about 1785 is still growing at his Mount Vernon estate.
A cross-section of our white ash would show more than 150 annual growth rings. Tree rings, once dated, can disclose information about climate, the effects of air pollution, frequency of wildfires, dynamics of insect populations, and more. For instance, a core sample taken from an ancient bristlecone pine in California, still alive after nearly five thousand years, revealed dramatic cooling of the world’s climate beginning in 1628 B.C., caused perhaps by a massive volcanic eruption half a world away.
The longevity of some trees helps us to understand why trees are so prominent in mythology and folklore. In Norse mythology, for example, the universe is imagined to be a colossal ash tree named Yggdrasil. Its branches reach to the heavens and cover the world, while its roots support the earth.