Common Alder (Alnus glutinosa) is a fast growing, medium sized tree.
It is the only broadleaved tree that bears cones and they are often found growing along the edges of streams and lakes or in damp areas.
Common Alder normally reach heights of up to 30 metres tall and the branches spread out as much as 10 metres.
Short-stalked dark green round leaves with flat tops and toothed edges, the leaves turn black in late autumn. The bark is greyish-brown and cracked.
The common alder has strongly scented creamy white flowers, in flat clusters. These develop into green berries know as "haws", that ripen to red by the autumn. Each "haw" bears a single seed.
Common Alder is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions except for very dry spots. It can withstand being periodically waterlogged and dried out. It is a useful plant to prevent soil erosion along rivers.
The alder can be used for hedging, coppicing and as a specimen tree. The catkins provide pollen for insects in early summer, and the haws are a good food source for birds.
Common Alder is a classic "pioneer" tree that is often used in reclaiming sites with especially poor soils, due to the bacteria living in nodules in its roots. These bacteria fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, improving it for other plants.
Note: Alder has invasive roots that can break old water pipes and damage the foundations of old buildings or walls. 15 metres away from vulnerable structures is a safe distance to plant Alder. New build, concrete foundations are not at risk.
Alder wood is used to make wood veneers, pulp and plywood.
Mythology and symbolism
When cut, Common Alder wood is initially pale but then turns a deep orange, which gives the impression of bleeding. Because of this, many people used to fear alder trees. In Ireland it was thought unlucky to pass a common alder tree on a journey.
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