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The Alder

UK Garden Centre - Alder information

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Family Betulaceae
Alnus glutinosa

Although the Alder is abundant by river-sides and in all low-lying moist lands as far north as Caithness, it is not so generally well known at sight as the Oak, the Beech, and the Birch.
It is a small tree, ordinarily only thirty to forty feet in height, with a girth from three to six feet, though occasionally it reaches a hundred feet in height. This is when it is growing in moist loam, upon which rain or floods have washed down good layers of humus from woods at a higher elevation. If, with its roots thus cared for, its head is in a humid atmosphere, the Alder is in happy case. If it has had the misfortune to get into a porous soil, though this may be moist enough to please the Ash, the Alder merely becomes a big bush.
The bark of the Alder is rough and black, and the leaves, from two to four inches long, are roundish with a wedged-shaped base. They have a waved and toothed margin, and have short stalks. They remain green long after the leaves of other trees have fallen. In their young condition these leaves are covered with hairs, and are sticky to the touch, and when older they retain a distinct suggestion of greasiness. There are bacteria nodules on the roots.
The flowering of the Alder is similar to that of the Birch, but the male catkins have red scales, and each flower four stamens. These catkins are erect at first, afterwards becoming lax and drooping. The female spikes remain erect and have the fleshy scales covered by red-brown bracts.
Seed is not produced until the Alder is twenty years old, and the crop is repeated almost every year after. The cones are ripe about October and November, when they scatter their fruit, but the empty ones persist in hanging to the branches throughout the winter in numbers sufficient to give the leafless tree a brown appearance from a little distance. The immature male catkins are in evidence at the same time.
The wood of the Alder is soft. Whilst the tree is sliver its wood is white, but when cut and exposed to the air it becomes red; finally, on drying, it changes to a pinkish tint.
As timber it has not great reputation, except for piles or other submerged purposes, when it is said to be exceedingly durable. It has also enjoyed a great reputation for making the best charcoal for the gunpowder mills, and it is largely used by the wood-turner, the wood-carver, and the cabinet-maker.
There is a variety (incisa) of the Alder in which the leaves are so deeply toothed that they bear a close resemblance to those of the Hawthorn.
In some localities the tree is called the Howler and Aller; the latter word apparently is from the original Anglo-Saxon name.


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