In my parents’ garden, there were lots of alder planted up against the fence toward the bicycle path behind our garden. The were 3-4 metres high at the time and had multiple stems and sticky leaves which I wasn’t always so keen on touching – my fingers would glue together afterwards. My brother and I persuaded my mum to give us chocolate biscuits in a basket and we would go on a picnic – often interrupted by King, our lassie dog. One time we even talked her into serving chips and bangers, Danish red ones, on her best plates, complete with camping light and table cloth on top of the concrete well cover…
The Alder plays a big role in Danish folklore and Alder Nymphs were said to sing and dance to young men on foggy nights, causing them to never come home again as they would too late discover that the girls were not who they said they were. As alder trees often grow in wet areas and can survive even with their roots completely under water there was a real risk of drowning associated with these trees.
The Danish word for Alder, El, is one of the oldest words in our language and is of the same origin as Elm which means exactly the same in both Danish and English. Names of trees are often short and some of the most stable words in a language – that’s a comforting fact somehow.
Alder wood isn’t very durable apart from under water where it will turn pitch black but last longer than any other type of wood and it has been used for bridge pillars etc. It is also used for smoking and making charcoal.
Alder has special root nodules around which certain bacteria live which produce nitrogen for the tree in return for sugar. This process makes alder really good at improving soil fertility. That’s kinda neat.
On my table, I have a plant that a friend gave to me. It’s in a glass pot and has a tiny wooden mushroom sticking up from it. Around it, he’s tied some female catkins of alder. They look sort of like cones, but they’re not really. These woody catkins are different from the male catkins and also the catkins of birch, all of which disintegrate after they have served their purpose.
Maybe tomorrow, I can tell you some random stuff about The Birch as both of these trees are in the Betulaceae family along with Hazels, Hornbeams and Ironwoods. You see, birches are some of my favourite trees and I’m sure you can’t wait to find out why…