Alder / Fearn

Alder 2Alder is the third letter in the Gaelic tree alphabet (though in some versions it’s the fifth). It is a symbol of secrecy and a place for trysting. It loves wet, dark, spooky places. It is also known as the shield tree? One old Scottish tradition was to plant alder stakes around the grave of a childless woman, to shield the community from her bad luck.

under the alder

a graveyard of roots grumbling
an ooze of wet yesterdays
a seep of longing

a wall of abandoned paintings
a secret hoard

a burying beetle
a heart looking for a shield

a world inside a ball of dung
a universe inside a blinking plankton

a canopy of clouds
a sea of darkness
a time, a place

an old woman cooking for one
a sad song (under the alder) waiting to be sung

Mandy Haggith

Some snippets of lore about alder

In Latin alder is alnus glutinosa, because it has sticky buds and leaves.

Alder loves wet ground and is a common riparian (riverside) tree. Alder leaves rot quickly and provides food and shade for fish.

Dense alderwood swamps are called carrs.

Alder is quick growing – up to 1m/year. It coppices well.

Alder is the only broad-leaved tree to produce cones.

Alder has teeny-weeny seeds – 250 to a gramme – with little water wings, so they float.

Alder roots have nodules housing a bacteria called Frankia alni, which fixes nitrogen from the air – 125 kg/year/hectare.

Alder is called ‘Scots mahogany’. When the wood is first cut it is pale, then it ‘bleeds’.

Alder wood resists rot so was used for the piles of crannogs (island houses in lochs) – trunks placed upside-down to reduce capillary action.

Much of Venice is built on alder logs.

Alder wood is used for canal lock gates, sluice gates, pumps, clogs, milk churns, pontoons, jetties, and in all manner of wet places.

When dry, alder rots easily. Alder fence posts rot above the ground.

Alder is associated with protection. It was used for warrior shields, and its charcoal used for forging weapons.

On big treks, put alder leaves in your shoes as plasters for travel-weary feet.

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