Sunday, March 14, 2010

American Hardwoods: Alder

In folklore, the Alder tree is known as "King of the Waters" and has the Willow tree as it's queen. In the Highlands of Scotland the 'bog Alder' was used for making handsome chairs that became known as Scottish Mahogany because after laying in a bog the wood has the same color as Ebony, but not the hardness.

Alder, from the birch family, is found in the Pacific Northwest US. 'Alnus rubra' is almost white when freshly cut but quickly changes on exposure to air, becoming light brown with a yellow or reddish tinge. The leaves of the Alder are broadly ovate, alternate and serrated. The finger-shaped furry cones are male catkins that form on the same plant as shorter female catkins. Alder catkins are edible and high in protein. A bitter and unpleasant taste, they're best remembered for survival purposes.

Heartwood of the Alder is formed only in trees of advanced age and there is no visible boundry between sap and heartwood. The wood is fairly straight grained with a uniform texture. Alder is a soft hardwood of medium density that has a low bending strength, shock resistance and stiffness.
Alder is particuarly noted as a pioneer species that improves the fertility of the soil where it grows, and provides additional nitrogen that benefits the species that follow.

In a new series on Edge of the Wildwood, we study 20 species of American Hardwoods. Each week a new species is profiled and compared. You'll be able to identify these trees by their bark, leaves, and even their grain or woodcrafts. Our next profile will be the Ash tree.

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