Water Loving Trees - The Alders
( Originally Published 1927 )
Closely related to the hornbeams and birches is a genus of small water-loving trees that grow rapidly and serve definite, special uses in the Old and New World. The genus alnus includes twenty species, nine of which grow in North America; six of these reach the height of trees.
The Black Alder
Alnus glutinosa, Gaertn.
Of the alders, the black alders of Europe is the largest and most important timber tree. Its range includes west-ern Asia and northern Africa. It was introduced success-fully into our Northeastern states in colonial times and has become naturalized in many localities. These trees some-times reach seventy feet in height and a trunk diameter of three feet. Their dark green foliage, glutinous when the leaves unfold in the spring, ranks these giant alders among the beautiful and picturesque trees.
The lumberman esteems alder wood only for special purposes. It grows in water and its wood resists decay better than any other kind when saturated through indefinite periods. In the old days it was the wood for the boat-builder. The piles of the Rialto in Venice and along the canals of Amsterdam and other Dutch cities are of black alder. Water pipes and troughs, pumps, barrel staves, kneading troughs, sabots and clogs were made of alder wood. The bark and cones are rich in tannin and a yellow dye used in making ink. Willow and alder make the best charcoal for gunpowder. Warty excrescences on old trees and twisted roots furnished the inlayer with small but beautifully veined and very hard pieces, beautiful in veneer work when polished. In America the black alder is often met in horticultural varieties. The daintiest are the cut-leaved forms, of which imperialis, with leaves fingered like a white oak, is a good example.
One of the best uses to which alders are put in Europe is planting in hedges along borders of streams, where their closely interlacing roots hold the banks from crumbling and keep the current clear in midstream. No English landscape is more beautiful than one through which a little river winds, its banks and the boggy spots tributary to it softened by billows of living green. "He who would see the alder in perfection must follow the banks of the Mole and Surrey through the sweet vales of Dorking and Wickleham."
A. maritima, Nutt.
The seaside alder shares with the witch hazel the peculiar distinction of bearing its flowers and ripening its fruit simultaneously in the fall of the year. The alder comes first, hanging out its golden catkins in clusters on the ends of the season's shoots in August and September. Nothing is left of them when the witch hazel scatters its dainty stars along the twigs in October and November. The seaside alder follows stream borders near but not actually on the seacoast, through eastern Delaware and Maryland, but ranges comfortably on drier soil as far west as Oklahoma and is hardy in gardens and parks as far north as Boston, where it blooms profusely and is much admired for both flowers and glossy foliage through the late summer.
A. Oregona, Nutt.
The Oregon or red alder reaches eighty feet in height and its trunk may exceed three feet in diameter. This Western tree exceeds the Old World alder in size. The smooth, pale-gray bark reminds us of the beech and sets this tree apart from the white alder whose bark is brown and deeply furrowed. The flowers and cone fruits are very large. The ovate leaves are cut-toothed and often lobed. This is the alder of the West Coast, largest where it comes down to the sea near the shores of Puget Sound, but climbing the mountains and canyon sides wherever there is water, from Sitka to Santa Barbara. The reddish brown wood is light, easily worked, and beautifully satiny when polished. In Washington and Oregon it is largely used in the manufacture of furniture. The Indian dug-outs are made of the butts of large trees.