Common Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
Common Alder (Alnus glutinosa) is a decidious tree that can grow to 25 metres (80 feet) at a fast rate and is native to most of Europe.
Useful info about Common Alder trees
|Deciduous (loses its leaves in winter)
|Can grow up to 25 metres (80 feet)
|The branches can spread out to 5 - 10 metres (18 - 35 feet)
|Soil Types Preferred
|Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
|Farmland, Gardens, Parks
|March / April
|Catkins / cones from Spring
|Celtic Tree Month
|March 18 - April 14
It is characterised by its 5–10 cm short-stalked rounded leaves 6–12 cm long, becoming wedge-shaped at the base and with a slightly toothed margin.
When young they are somewhat glutinous, hence the specific name, becoming later a glossy dark green.
As with some other plants growing near water it keeps its leaves longer than do trees in drier situations, the glossy green foliage lasting after other trees have put on the red or brown of autumn, which renders it valuable for landscape effect.
As the Latin name glutinosa implies, the buds and young leaves are slightly sticky with a resinous gum.
It is in leaf from March to November, in flower from March to April, and the seeds ripen from September to November. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Wind. The alder is readily propagated by seeds, but throws up root suckers abundantly.
Alder trees also have a heavy leaf canopy and when the leaves fall in the autumn they help to build up the humus content of the soil. Alder seedlings do not compete well in shady woodland conditions and so this species gradually dies out as the other trees become established.
Common Alder prefers medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay and nutritionally poor soils. It prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist or wet soil and can survive on the coast where it would be exposed to salty winds.
A robust species, the alder can be grown in a windbreak or a hedge and, because the trees will grow at a rate of 1 metre or more per year when young, they are very quick to establish.
This makes them an excellent pioneer species for re-establishing woodlands on disused farmland, difficult sites etc.
Its fast growth rate means that it can quickly provide sheltered conditions in which more permanent woodland trees can establish themselves. In addition, bacteria on the roots fix atmospheric nitrogen - whilst this enables the tree to grow well in quite poor soils it also makes some of this nitrogen available to other plants growing nearby.
Because they tolerate very poor soils and also produce nitrogen nodules on their roots, alders are suitable for use in land reclamation schemes.
The powdered bark has been used as an ingredient of toothpastes. Sticks of the bark have been chewed as tooth cleaners.
An ink and a various coloured dyes can obtained from the bark, catkins and young shoots
The leaves and bark are a good source of tannin.
The leaves are clammy and, if spread in a room, are said to catch fleas and flies on their glutinous surface.
Common Alder wood is very durable in water, elastic, soft, fairly light, easily worked, easily split. It is often used for situations where it has to remain underwater and is also used for furniture, pencils, bowls, woodcuts, clogs etc. It is much valued by cabinet makers. The wood also makes a good charcoal.
The wood is soft, white when first cut and turning to pale red; the knots are beautifully mottled. Under water the wood is very durable, and it is therefore used for piles. The supports of the Rialto at Venice, and many buildings at Amsterdam, are of Alder wood. It is also the traditional wood burnt to produce smoked fish and other smoked foods, though in some areas other woods are more often used now.
Any uses for trees or tree extracts, whether edible or medicinal, have not been tried or tested by EFORESTS.
Please take caution and seek proper advice before attempting any recipes or medicinal extracts from any of the trees listed on our site.
Culture and Symbolism
The Alder tree is believed to represent strength, protection, determination.
Frequently, such as in Brythonic and Norse mythology, the Alder is a symbol of resurrection, possibly because the wood turns from white to reddish-purple when cut, similar to human blood. The first humans in Norse mythology were made from Ash and Alder trees.
In Ireland, reverence for the Alder tree was so great that cutting one down was a criminal offence. In other places, such as Newfoundland, the Alder's medicinal effects were prized; it has been used to treat burns, rheumatism and itching.
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