Attention to Alder

Monday, November 21st 2016

It seems to be getting dark much earlier now than even a week ago – the cold, grey and very wet day probably didn’t help! We started the day with the outdoor jobs, before the worse of the rain struck, removing some of the vegetation cleared from ponds on the wetland and making sure the gutters on the Field Centre were clear, before retreating from the weather to indoor jobs, including maintenance of some of our equipment.

So rather than tell you in great detail about the minutiae of our day, instead how about a focus on one of the species we’ve worked with quite a bit recently in our habitat work down by Risedale Beck: Alder, Alnus glutinosa.

Alder is a native tree to Britain. Its wood is durable – but ONLY if kept wet, where it withstands rot under water. This property made it useful historically in the manufacture of water pipes and it is still the preferred wood for clog making. Alder coppices well, which is what we were doing with some of ours down by Risedale Beck, and the wood can be used to make an excellent charcoal – as well as, apparently, a very good gunpowder! Dyes can be obtained from various parts of the tree, including the bark, cones and catkins.

Alder is also a useful pioneer tree as it has root nodules containing a nitrogen fixing bacterium and so improves the fertility of the soil on which it grows, by helping provide nitrogen for other plant species. It is therefore often planted on former industrial wasteland and brownfield sites. However, evil was thought to lurk within the alder tree, as when cut, the pale wood turns a deep orange/red, giving the impression that the tree is bleeding.


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