Alder - Fearnóg

Alnus glutinosa
Native Irish Alder
Native Irish Alder (Kevin Collins photo)

One of Ireland's most traditional and widely distributed trees, alders may be found in damp areas, beside freshwater loughs and along river banks, where their strong fibrous roots may help to keep the bank in place. Alder woodlands are found in Ross Island, Killarney, Co. Kerry and the Gearagh, Co. Cork, while Grantstown wood, Co. Laois is a rare example of wet woodland on an alkaline soil.

Like most trees, alder flowers before the leaves are out, with attractive reddish catkins and small cones that contain the seeds. Alder will grow in most soils, and likes wet sites. Given rich damp soil alder will grow rapidly and is a really productive tree for timber. In ancient Ireland sections of alder trunks were used as round shields. Later, it was used for making clogs and also in the furniture trade where it was known as 'Irish mahogany'. As it is resistant to decay when submerged in water, alder is used to make sluice gates and other structures along streams, rivers and canals.

Height: 

22

Characteristics: 

Grows in a wide variety of soils
Suitable for Open Spaces
Suitable for Streets & Confined Spaces
Tolerates or prefers Damp Conditions
Tolerates Shade
Tolerates smoke or pollution

Collection: 

Collect alder seeds by gathering ripe cones in autumn. When dried the cones will open and can be shaken, in a bag or tin box, to help release the seeds. Separate seeds from the cones using a riddle or a large sieve.

Storage: 

Store the seed in a cool dry place in a natural fibre (hessian is best choice) bag. Never store fresh seed in a plastic bag because it excludes air and causes the seed to heat up thereby lessening its viability. They should be stratified for one month prior to sowing, in a mixture of sand and peat substitute.

Sowing: 

Seeds may be sown in the spring, either in seed beds for larger scale production or on a smaller scale in seed trays. For a large seedbed, broadcast the seed onto the soil. Roll the seed bed to fix the seed to the bed. It is crucial for the seed to have proper contact with the soil. Lightly cover with coarse sand using a riddle. Ensure that the seed bed does not dry out during germination. On a smaller scale sow by sprinkling thinly onto a well moistened general purpose seed compost in seed trays or pots. Do not cover the seeds with soil. If you want you can cover the seed trays with glass to prevent the seed bed drying out. Leave it outdoors in the shade (make sure it is not in direct sunlight). Again ensure the seed tray never dries out. When the seeds have germinated the seedlings can be treated as you would any vegetable or flower seed. Prick out the seedlings, holding them by the two coytledons (the first green leaves which develop from the seed). The seedlings may be planted into pots, plug trays, or prepared open ground. Young trees can then be planted out after one year's growth but it is usually safer to wait for two years.