Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pity the Poor Alder

Alnus rubra, the Red Alder, is a misunderstood species in this part of the world. This native hardwood, common to wetter areas like riverbanks in western Oregon, is treated like a scourge by homeowners and loggers alike. Pity. This wonderful hardy tree has so much to offer, in my opinion.

Consider the many seasons that an alder tree shows you its beauty.

In the grim winters of western Oregon, these native trees display mottled grey and white bark to rival any birch, and graceful branches which are easily pruned into a high canopy. The open branching admits needed light underneath in dark months.

Late winter into early spring, the alders are the first to begin warming our tree canopy with color, as their stalked red buds swell and a hazy rose is spread among their tree tops. For some, the alders can bring on spring allergies, but their bloom is brief.

Summer brings a canopy of dappled bright-green shade, beautifully backlit by the high northern sun. The shade provided under this nitrogen-fixing, drought-tolerant plant creates some of the best-adapted lawns we have seen, without additional water.

The alders in fall turn a subtle golden and the leaves drop quickly, usually quite late. These leaves are light and small enough to provide valuable mulch or compost media, and don't pack into the wet impenetrable mess seen under many maples.

The alder offers one more benefit, after its life has come to an end. Hot-burning firewood, with small diameter branches perfect for a campfire and larger trunks that are easy to split. You might notice firewood sellers who are exclusive to alder.

This is just to say, native trees and plants have many attributes often overlooked. Before you condemn them in favor of a Japanese or English import, give them a chance.

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