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Alnus rubra, Red Alder


A fast-growing and very wind resistant tree, it is an excellent plant for providing rapidly produced shelterbelts. The trees extensive root system also makes it suitable for controlling erosion along the banks of rivers. A very ornamental tree.

The red alder is a very fast growing tree, even when planted in severe exposure, but it is short-lived, dying when 60 - 80 years old. This is an important pioneer tree, quickly invading logged or burnt over sites, and providing ideal conditions for other trees to become established. 

Both the roots and the young shoots have been used in making baskets.

A red to brown dye is obtained from the bark.

Wood - soft, brittle, not strong, light, close and straight-grained, very durable in water. An important lumber tree, it makes a good imitation mahogany and is used for cheap furniture etc.

A good fuel, it does not spark so can be used in the open, it also makes a high grade charcoal.

Red alder was widely employed medicinally by native North American Indians who mainly used the bark to treat a wide range of complaints. The plant is little used in modern herbalism.

Prefers a heavy soil and a damp situation. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Tolerates very infertile sites. A very wind resistant tree with excellent establishment in severely exposed sites, it tolerates severe maritime exposure.

Seed requires 6 weeks cold stratification.

Only lightly cover the sown seed. The seed should germinate in the spring as the weather warms up. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots. If growth is sufficient, it is possible to plant them out into their permanent positions in the summer, otherwise keep them in pots outdoors and plant them out in the spring.

This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil micro-organisms, these form nodules on the roots of the plants and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby. Red alder has been estimated to fix as much as 300 kg of nitrogen per hectare.

Edible uses

Catkins - raw or cooked. They are rich in protein but have a bitter flavour and are not very palatable.

Sap - raw. Harvested in late winter, the flow is best on a warm, sunny day that follows a cold frosty night. A sweet flavour, it was often used to sweeten other foods.


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