Alder, the van of warrior bands for thereof are the shields.
Shield of warrior bands.
Protector of the heart, the shield.
Guarding of milk.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Alder fact file Alnus glutinosa (Latin) Fearn (Ogham) Aler (Anglo-Saxon) Elri (Norse) Gwernen (Welsh/Cornish)
The Alder can be a large canopy tree up to 70ft high laden with last year’s cones and reddish brown catkins at the same time fringing wetlands with a beautiful spring sight which is perhaps why the Norsemen called March ‘Lenct’ ( to become Lent) which means ‘the lengthening month of the Alder’.
Alder is often thought of as a Faerie or Elemental tree, an axis from which the elements flow and form.
Water- forms a valuable habitat known as ‘Carr’ supporting much wildlife on wetlands or beside rivers and lakes.
Fire- Alder wood does not burn especially well but produces hot charcoal and gunpowder.
Earth- The tree roots into the ground fixing nitrogen salts therefore enriching the soil around it.
Air- It has ‘Royal’ purple buds, the colour of the Raven and therefore connects the tree to the raven-headed giant Bran who has oracular powers of prophecy and protects the land of Britain from invaders. The wood has also been used to make whistles and pipes.
Alder in Lore is considered to be the male counterpart to the Willow as they both preside over our waterways nourishing and supporting this vital system. The male aspect is further enforced in the trees association with warriors. The wood was used to make a shield, and a fiery red dye obtained from the bark called ‘roeim’ (that which reddens the face) may have been used like woad to strike fear into the enemy. In the Welsh triads they speak of crimson stained Warriors of the Alder Cult. Dyes can also be obtained from the flowers (green) and the twigs (brown).The war Goddess the Morrigawn also takes the form of the raven and therefore one could associate her with the Alder.
The latin ‘Alnus’ may have been derived from the phrase ‘Alor Amne’- I am nourished by the stream.
The tree can be used for healing. The leaves can help relieve weary feet and put into duvets and cushions etc they can be used to give rheumatic relief. The leaves can also be used to tan leather and the bark can be placed on burns and inflammations including the neck if inflamed.
Alder wood is not durable unless immersed in water so is an ideal wood for water pipes, troughs, canal lock gates etc. Much of Venice is built on Alder piles and the wood in Britain would have been used as foundations for ‘Crannogs’- round houses built on waterways in ancient times.
There are three main woodland types of Alder:
Fen- low level ground on floodplains of rivers and streams.
Valley- Growing along narrow fringes to streams or climbing flushed slopes especially in Western Britain.
Plateau- level uplands often on a watershed. Alder generally will colonize new sites its seeds dispersed by water and to a lesser extent wind. It coppices well.
Alder doesn’t like stagnant anaerobic water or severe prolonged flooding but prefers moving oxygenated water and is associated with plants of fertile soil maybe due its nitrogen-fixing properties. In a mixed wood it associates itself with Lime, Birch, Chestnut and Hornbeam growing in soils varying from 3.3ph- 7.3ph. Local name indicators of Alder include Cargate and Carrfell.
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Poetry of flowers
Join me to explore the flora of the British Isles on this blog. My intention is to attempt to capture the unique quality and beauty of each species of flower, tree or shrub. For every species featured I will be growing many more wildflowers to celebrate the joy of their existence, their intrinsic conservation value and bewildering array of uses. For nearly 30 years I have noted, studied and explored wildflowers in the field much to the patience of the walker beside me. To share this passion is a heartfelt plea to respect, preserve and care for all British Wildflowers no matter how common they seem.