Alder Tree Facts and Information

  • Latin Name: Alnus glutinosa
  • Native Words: Old Irish (fearn) Scots Gaelic (fearna) Old English (alor) Welsh (gwernen) eastern Celtic (werneth)
  • Ogham Sign:
  • Height when Mature: 16-30m
  • Height after 10 Years: 1-2m
Alder Tree Leaves and Cones

Alder Tree Botanical Description:

Recognisable for its purple sheen in spring, alder trees are one of our smaller native tree species. They have a light, delicate appearance, with grey bark, flecked with white.

The leaves are round and toothed. The seeds develop in cones; in fact, alder is the only British native deciduous tree to develop cones. Unlike the large varieties found on pine, those on alder trees are tiny and the seeds are spread by the wind being often carried downstream to germinate on the waters edge elsewhere.

Throughout the winter the empty cones hang on the branches and from January – March the pale green male catkins stand out, emerging before the leaves, dangling in the wind. Female catkins are small round ball-shaped bodies which lie behind the male catkins further back on the twigs The are purple at first but turn brown before developing into the cones.


Alder Tree Natural History and Ancient Wisdom:

In the wild Alder is never far from with water. In lowland Britain, especially in the west, alder trees are the main native tree to be found along streams and small rivers. Alder trees also lie along streams and small river valleys in upland areas. Its second natural habitat is marshland or boggy ground which it encroaches onto forming woodlands known as alder carr. It grows best with its roots in water.

Alder wood is water resistant and this quality meant its timber was used for specialist tasks. Clogs worn by mill workers farm workers and miners often working in damp conditions in Lancashire and Yorkshire were made from alder wood.

Alder trees growing along streams were managed by coppicing, and the rods used to shore up banks. Many ancient alders are redundant coppices, the practice has died out in the last 100 years In Welsh legend alder was associated with the goddess Bran. The hero Gwydion recognised Bran when he saw her carrying alder branches.

In Ireland, felling alders was punishable because of the apparent ability of the trees to bleed red when cut. Alder, like yew, was a tree associated with death and alder rods would be used to measure corpses and graves.

In Norse legend, the first man and woman were made from ash and alder respectively.

Herbalists and apothecaries used the bark of alder trees for purging: “the country people use it in intermittent fevers with success, because of this remedy purges and vomits them vigorously and carries off the disease”. (Chambers Pocket Herbal, 1800)

Alder Tree growing next to water

Alder Place Names in the UK:

Not surprisingly associated with places near water or marshland.

  • Alrewas (Staffordshire) ‘alder wash’
  • Alderwasley (Derbyshire)
  • Allerwash (Northumberland)
  • Werneth Low (Cheshire) 'low point where alder grows'
  • Alderford (Norfolk) 'ford where alders grow’
  • Aldreth (Cambridgeshire) ‘landing place where alders grow’
  • Aller (Dorset) ‘alder’

 

Alder Tree Wildlife Rating:

Alder is a beneficial tree to both other trees and the surrounding wildlife.

The catkins produced by the Alder tree provide an early source of pollen and nectar for bees and other early pollinators.

In winter, alder is sought out by flocks of Siskins and Redpoll, rarely seen, small but attractive finches. Both species feed on the seeds held within the miniature cones.

 

Alder Tree Good Points:

  • Alder trees are perfect for growing in very damp ground and are often grown by lakes or large ponds. 
  • They are attractive light trees which do not require much ground and do not heavily shade out plants growing underneath.
  • Alder has been known to improve surrounding soil fertility due to its ability to fix nitrogen from the air. 

 

Alder Tree Bad Points:

  • In some areas, the tree can be susceptible to drought and will suffer in long periods of dry weather unless it's roots are in water.

 

Looking to buy an Alder Tree?

Here at Tree2mydoor, we specialise in sending a variety of trees and plants as gifts. While we don't currently stock the Alder Tree why not consider something like our Silver Birch Tree Gift? They make up a part of the same family and have a similar growth habit with delicate foliage and a light crown of leaves that won't block out the sun. The silver birch is also much better suited to a wide variety of growing conditions whereas the alder prefers it damp and marshy.

If the Silver Birch isn't for you, we offer many more native tree sapling gifts that are ideal for UK gardens. Check out our ancient wisdom trees for even more tree gift ideas.

If you are looking to order a large number of saplings then please get in touch and send the details to care@tree2mydoor.com and we will be able to help organise something for you.