A simple life is a happy one, learning to enjoy, explore and discover whatever your age :)

Oot ma door 6 – the alder tree

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Time for a tale –

The Poor Man’s Clever Daughter, from the telling of Peter Stewart

Hi abody, today we’re looking at the alder, one of our native trees.

Alder trees favour growing on or near river banks and marshy areas.

These trees are a vital part of Scotland’s regeneration of river areas.

For many years and in many areas farming has removed the treeline – the ‘green-lifeline’ from our riversides.

I’d always assumed it was natural for fields to stretch up to a river’s edge. But I’ve learned otherwise.

A ‘barren’ river

In 2018 I went with Reforesting Scotland* to visit a river that’s a tributory of the Spey.


Previously, this river had been straightened and animals had grazed up to the river’s edge. Over time the banks eroded, sweeping plants, soil and nutrients downstream.

Boulder walls were created to try and shore up the banks.


But the river flowed faster, silt continued to be carried downstream, creating a ‘dam’ effect near the entry to the Spey, causing repeated flooding.

By 2011, this river’s banks were barren of life – no plants, no trees and no fish left in the water.

What discourages erosion?

  • Slow down the river’s flow
  • Prevent grazing up to the edge
  • Allow regeneration of trees and plants


  • Throw dead trees in – water has to flow around, recreating a meander, thus decreasing the river’s flow
  • Fence a 6m (or more) area either side of the river – stops animals grazing
  • Let natural regeneration bounce back

Alder trees – the steadfast

One of the main trees making a come back to this area is alder. As trees which relishes water:

  • their roots help support the river bank
  • the roots help to anchor the riverbank’s soil, so water flows by without eroding it.
  • alders host many insects that pollinate other flora re-emerging from the soil.

For more information on the importance of alder trees, have a look here:

*Reforesting Scotland is a voluntary organisation advocating tree planting and natural tree regeneration as vital for our land and communities. Find out more here:

The alder tree

The tree

Alders often grow in stands in marshy areas, some can produce suckers from their roots.

Alders are sometimes referred to as a ‘shrub’ tree as they do not grow to great heights.

The bark

The bark of the alder is rough and reddish brown – the branches and twigs are reddish too.

The buds, leaves, flowers and fruit

Alder trees are never quite without decoration – the brown female cones from the previous summer decorate the tree all winter and in early spring as the oval, green buds ripen, the male yellow catkins are like lambs tails in the breeze, wafting their pollen onto the upright female cones to pollinate them.

The leaves are almost tulip-like in appearance, emerging from the reddish stems and twigs:

As the male catkins turn brown, the female cones begin to grow:

The leaves are shiny and smooth with a serrated edge, oval in shape often with an indented tip:

As the summer progresses the fruit will ripen and open, allowing the seeds to fall:

The wood

Alders have pale, fine-grained durable wood which becomes harder in water – in the past it was used in the construction of water vessels, sluice gates and underwater pipes.

But when the wood is cut, the pale wood turns deep orangey-red, as if it is bleeding.

Challenge – can you create a story about why the alder tree ‘bleeds’?

Thanks for joining me, see you soon 🙂

Author: graceeyetoheart

My work springs from my love of nature and supporting others to touch, discover and be in the outdoors. This work often intermingles with my love of story, music and song.

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