Of The Alder
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
1. Alnus, the alder, (both conifera and julifera) is of all other the most faithful lover of watery and boggy places, and those most despis'd weeping parts, or water-galls of forests ; crassisque paludibus alni ; for in better and dryer ground they attract the moisture from it, and injure it. They are propagated of trunchions, and will come of seeds (for so they raise them in Flanders, and make wonderful profit of the plantations) like the poplar ; or of roots, (which I prefer) the trunchions being set as big as the small of ones leg, and in length about two foot ; whereof one would be plunged in the mud. This profound fixing of aquatick-trees being to preserve them steddy, and from the concussions of the winds, and violence of waters, in their liquid and slippery foundations. They may be placed at four or five foot distance, and when they have struck root, you may cut them, which will cause them to spring in clumps, and to shoot out into many useful poles. But if you plant smaller sets, cut them not till they are arriv'd to some competent bigness, and that in a proper season : Which is, for all the aquaticks and soft woods, not till Winter be well advanc'd, in regard of their pithy substance. Therefore, such as you shall have occasion to make use of before that period, ought to be well grown, and fell'd with the earliest, and in the first quarter of the increasing moon, that so the successive shoot receive no prejudice : Some, before they fell, disbark their alders, and other trees ; of which see Cap. III. Book I I I. But there is yet another way of planting alders after the Jersey manner, and as I receiv'd it from a most ingenious gentleman of that country, which is, by taking trunchions of two or three foot long, at the beginning of Winter, and to bind them in faggots, and place the ends of them in water 'till towards the Spring, by which season they will have contracted a swelling spire, or knurr about that part, which being set, does (like the gennet-moil apple-tree) never fail of growing and striking root. There is a black sort more affected to woods, and drier grounds ; and bears a black berry, not so frequently found ; yet growing somewhere about Hampsted, as the learned Dr. Tan. Robinson observes.
2. There are a sort of husbands who take excessive pains in stubbing up their alders, where-ever they meet them in the boggie places of their grounds, with the same indignation as one would extirpate the most pernicious of weeds ; and when they have finished, know not how to convert their best lands to more profit than this (seeming despicable) plant might lead them to, were it rightly understood. Besides, the shadow of this tree, does feed and nourish the very grass which grows under it ; and being set, and well plashed, is an excellent defence to the banks of rivers ; so as I wonder it is not more practis'd about the Thames, to fortifie, and prevent the mouldring of the walls, and the violent weather they are exposed to.
3. You may cut aquatic-trees every third or fourth year, and some more frequently, as I shall shew you hereafter. They should also be abated within half a foot of the principal head, to prevent the perishing of the main stock ; and besides, to accelerate their sprouting. In setting the trunchions, it were not amiss to prepare them a little after they are fitted to the size, by laying them a while in water ; this is also practicable in willows, &c.
4. Of old they made boats of the greater parts of this tree, and excepting Noah's ark, the first vessels we read of, were made of this material.
And as then, so now, are over-grown alders frequently sought after, for such buildings as lie continually under water, where it will harden like a very stone ; whereas being kept in any unconstant temper, it rots immediately, because its natural humidity is of so near affinity with its adventitious, as Scaliger assigns the cause. Vitruvius tells us, that the morasses about Ravenna in Italy, were pil'd with this timber, to superstruct upon, and highly commends it. I find also they us'd it under that famous Bridge at Venice, the Rialto, which passes over the Gran-Canal, bearing a vast weight. Jos. Bauhimus pretends, that in tract of time, it turns to stone ; which perhaps it may seem to be (as well as other aquatick) where it meets with some lapidescant quality in the earth and water.
5. The poles of alder are as useful as those of willows ; but the coals far exceed them, especially for gun-powder : The wood is likewise useful for piles, pumps, hop-poles, water-pipes, troughs, sluces, small trays, and trenchers, wooden-heels; the bark is precious to dyers, and some tanners, and leather-dressers make use of it ; and with it, and the fruits (instead of galls) they compose an ink. The fresh leaves alone applied to the naked soal of the foot, infinitely refresh the surbated traveller. The bark macerated in water, with a little rust of iron, makes a black dye, which may also be us'd for ink : The interior rind of the black alder purges all hydropic, and serous humours ; but it must be dry'd in the shade, and not us'd green, and the decoction suffer'd to settle two or three days, before it be drunk.
Being beaten with vinegar, it heals the itch certainly : As to other uses the swelling bunches, which are now and then found in the old trees, afford the inlayer pieces curiously chambletted, and very hard, &c. but the faggots better for the fire, than for the draining of grounds by placing them (as the guise is) in the trenches ; which old rubbish of flints, stones, and the like gross materials, does infinitely exceed, because it is for ever, preserves the drains hollow, and being a little moulded over, will produce good grass, without any detriment to the ground ; but this is a secret, not yet well understood, and would merit an express paragraph, were it here seasonable.