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GRANDMA SAYS: Oak and ash - getting to the root of the rainfall conundrum

Will it be oak (left) or ash first? Jean Tosti/Anna reg
Will it be oak (left) or ash first? Jean Tosti/Anna reg - Wikimedia

I miss a lot of things about the farm: the quiet, the openness, the smells and the fact that things happened - as Grandma always said - “in due time.” Regardless of when we decided it was time to tap the maple trees, cut the hay or harvest the corn, nature really decided that for us.

The seasons came and left. Everything got done, but not necessarily on our schedule. Over the years, I learned a lot from that - but, I digress.

In April, when the last of the snow left the land, Grandma paid close attention to which trees were first to bud; she believed that the oak and ash trees could tell you something about how wet the upcoming season would be. Imagine! According to popular belief, the order in which these trees bud holds the answer.

As was so often the case with oral history, a rhyme was made up to more easily remember the information:

“Oak before ash, only a splash. Ash before oak, we’re in for a soak.”

Grandma wasn’t the first to turn to these trees for a long-range forecast. Scientists at the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology in England have records that date back to the 18th century. According to their data, the race between oak and ash was far more equal last century. In the 1900s, the oak was ahead only about 60 per cent of the time. More recently, the oak has charged ahead, budding before the ash almost 90 per cent of the time.

Let’s get to the root of this one! The ash tree has shallow roots and relies on moisture from winter’s snow to set its buds. Oak trees on the other hand have a deep root system and do better in drier conditions because they don’t have to rely on spring snowmelt. Generally speaking, our overall snow cover has gone down over the past couple decades.

So, in the case of the budding trees, it seems to be more of a reaction than a forecast, but don’t tell Grandma that!

Check it out and let me know whether it’s oak before ash.

Cindy Day is the chief meteorologist for SaltWire Network.

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