Relic Sogdian ash

Relict Ash-tree grove is an outstanding place in Charyn river area…People come here to see the famous Charyn and Temirlic canyons, as well as enjoy an epic forest. Having passed by few weeks ago, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit this prehistoric oasis. Touching the trunks of giant ashes, we were wondering about the conditions which helped surviving of this tree for the millions of years, in the middle of a desert. So, we dove deeper in history to trace and tell you the amazing story of the Sogdian Ash.

Fraxinus sogdiana Bunge (Oleaceae) is one the representatives of the wet deciduous forests which covered a huge territory of Kazakhstan in tertiary period. A tree is 20-25 m high with a trunk diameter of up to 1.5 m at breast height. It is in prime of its life between 30 and 40 years, but some of the trees in the Charyn grove are older than 300 years. The Sogdian ash’s history started 25 millions years ago and it is very rare nowadays. Moreover, it is one of the rare species of flora survived in the Ice age. In Kazakhstan this kind of ash is also known as river-requiring (rekolyubivy), as it grows in the floodplain forests along the valleys of mountain rivers and on mountain slopes in the northern and western Tien Shan. But the Ash Grove in Charyn is located in the middle of a dead desert! Then how it survived?

Well, in the Miocene and Pliocene periods (20,4 – 3,6 mln of years) this area was covered by the waters of Ili Lake, supplied by few rivers including Charyn. When the lake dried out, Charyn became a feeder of Ili River. In those days the banks of the river were overgrown with boundless forests. At the same time, the mountain ranges of Terskey Alatau, Kungey Alatau and Ketmen, where the Charyn springs from, kept growing, so the water flow speed accelerated thus increased the erosion. The erosion process caused the formation of deep canyons with an overall length of 150km. The following climate changes (rains and hard winds) that occurred here half million years ago, finished the work of canyon decoration so that we could enjoy this extreme beauty today. Meanwhile, the same changes caused the “movement” of the vegetation that was forced to drift inside the canyons full of clean water: the valleys became arid. So, the famous Charyn ash-tree grove seems to the last island of a relic forest, survived inside a canyon under protection of its high walls.

The Charyn Ash Tree Grove became a National Reserve in March of 1964. By the way, the Sogdian ash is not the only relict here: the grove is also known for other rare prehistoric plants like Ili oleaster, willow and poplar. The grove is the biggest in Kazakhstan and Central Asia (812 hectares)

Sogdian ash-tree Sogdian ash-tree Sogdian ash-tree