Ash is our lively hoods. While the amount of Irish ash used in hurley production is about 12%, there is a lot of work ongoing improving the quality of Irish ash. The Guild of ash hurley makers were made aware of this in November 2009. A group from the guild participated in a field day organised by Michael Somers of Teagasc.
Our first port of call was to see the plant breeding centre. Dr. Gerry Douglas outlined the method of grafting used at producing quality seed. Other methods were developed to improve the success in sterilising buds and in establishing viable cultures. These included using a heat treatment to break the dormancy in winter buds and a new formulation of the growth medium. Once the cultures were established in vitro, they could be micropropagated by using apical or axillary buds as explants. Rooting occurred spontaneously and plants were weaned to the glasshouse.
From there both Dr. Douglas and John MacNameara took the group to see the next stage in the glass house. Once in the glass house the new sapling need a high amount of water. Because of this sensory water meters are used to turn on the water spray. Once the saplings have developed they are out planted. However, the research is at a stage now where seed orchards are needs. This will be the development of better ash stock for the forestry, wood using and hurley making industries.
The Guild has also learned about the importance off seed provenance. Dr. Douglas out lined the importance off seed. He also outlined the importance of provenance. In some forests ash may not be thriving, with bad form which may look more like a bush than a tree. It is possible that this ash is a wrong provenance or “brown budded ash”. The area where the brown budded ash comes from is central and southern Europe. The characteristics of the hybrid ash overlap with native ash for many traits and it is difficult to identify hybrid trees. In come cases both flower at the same time and this can lead to hybridisation.
a) Common ash (F. excelsior)
b) “brown bud” hybrid ash
c) narrow-leaved ash (F. angustifolia)
Approximately 5,000 Ha of ash in Ireland is between 10 and 15 years of age. Most of these forests were established at 3,300 trees per Ha. Because ash is a strong light demander this ash requires vigerous early thinning. Once the trees are 8m in height, ash should be thinned. While this will yield little or no hurley butt, it will create the environment where hurleys can be obtained in second and subsequent thinning.
Dr. Ian Shortt of UCD and Jerry Campion and Toddy Radford of Teagasc stated clearly that ash must be thinned at the correct times, otherwise it will simply stop growing and will not recover. The group outlined plots and marked PCT (Potential crop trees). From this, the group also marked hurley butt. Later Fionnán Russell of PTR forestry brought the group to a 15 year old crop of ash, which had received a second thinning. This forest had a number of high quality stems and a high number of hurey butt, which can be extraced with the next thinning.
From this the guild have seen that there is a lot of work going on in ash. This is to improve the quality of the material that we will be using in the future.