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The alder is planted to form hedges in moist meadows; and it is planted along the margins of rivers, to keep up the banks by its numerous creeping roots. If the alder be planted in a low meadow, it is said that the surface of the ground surrounding it will become boggy; whereas, if ash be planted, the roots of which also extend a great way in every direction, and run near the surface, the ground will become firm and dry; though on what principle these changes take place, we are not informed; and the statement is therefore, most probably, a vulgar error. The chief use of the alder is as coppice-wood, to be cut down every five or six years, and made into charcoal for the gunpowder manufac turers. The charcoal is considered the next best for that purpose to that of Rhamnus Frángula, the berry-bearing alder, the aune noir of the French (see p. 537.); and plantations of the common alder are made by the proprietors of the gunpowder manufactories of Hounslow, and other places, in order to make sure of a supply. The larger branches are made into charcoal for the coarser kinds of gunpowder, and the spray for the finer kinds.
As an ornamental tree, much cannot be said in favour of the alder. Du Hamel remarks that its verdure is agreeable, and its shade dense; and that its leaves, like those on all plants which grow by water, remain on longer in the autumn than those of deciduous trees which prefer dry situations. In sheltered places, young alder trees frequently retain their leaves till January. Du Hamel observes that, as cattle will never touch the leaves of the alder as long as they can get anything else to eat, it is a good tree for parks, and also for hedges; and he adds that it will form very good avenues in situations exposed to cattle. As an object for the landscape-painter, the leaves of the alder do not fall into fine masses; and they appear too uniformly distributed over the entire head of the tree. Nevertheless, as Gilpin observes, it is a more picturesque tree than the common willow, both in its ramification, and in its foliage: perhaps, indeed, he says, it is the most picturesque of any of the aquatic tribe, except the weeping willow. "He who would see the alder in perfection, must follow the banks of the Mole, in Surrey, through the sweet vales of Dorking and Mickleham, into the groves of Esher. The Mole, indeed, is far from being a beautiful river: it is a quiet and sluggish stream; but what beauty it has, it owes greatly to the alder, which every where fringes its meadows, and, in many places, forms very pleasing scenes, especially in the vale between Box Hill and the high grounds of Norbury Park. Some of the largest alders we have in England grow in the Bishop of Durham's park, at Bishop-Auckland. The generality of trees acquire picturesque beauty by age: but it is not often that they are suffered to attain this picturesque period. Some use is commonly found for them long before that time. The oak falls for the greater purposes of man; and the alder is ready to supply a variety of his smaller wants. An old tree, therefore, of any kind, is a curiosity; and even an alder, such as those at Bishop-Auckland, when dignified by age, makes a respectable figure." (Gilp. For. Scen., i. p. 69.) Sir Thomas Dick Lauder fully agrees with Mr. Gilpin in his commendation of the alder. It is always associated in our minds, he says, "with river scenery, both of that tranquil description most frequently to be met with in the vales of England, and with that of a wilder and more stirring cast, which is to be found among the glens and deep ravines of Scotland. In very many instances, we have seen it put on so much of the bold resolute character of the oak, that it might have been mistaken for that tree, but for the intense depth of its green hue. The Mole may, doubtless, furnish the traveller with very beautiful specimens of the alder, as it may also furnish an example of that species of quiet English scenery we have alluded to; but we venture to assert, that no where will the tree be found in greater perfection than on the wild banks of the river Findhorn, and its tributary streams, where scenery of the most romantic description every where occurs." (Laud. Gilp., i. p. 136.) The alder, Boutcher characterises as" an ugly melancholy tree;" and, as it is more frequently found by stagnant than by running water, an observation as old as the time of Virgil, we are strongly inclined, though we do not think it ugly, to consider it as one of
the most melancholy of deciduous trees. The loose negligent manner in which its dark dull green leaves are distributed over its branches, gives the tree a dishevelled appearance, as if it were careless about itself; and, if the weeping willow is to be considered as representing outward and simulated grief, the alder, we should say, forms a good emblem of the grief of the heart.
"O'er the swift waters of the running stream
The willow waves its light and graceful form,
Gloomy and sad, as though it scorn'd to please :
Which broods in silence, and corrodes the breast."
The motion of the alder tree corresponds with its form; being slight and partial, owing to its rigidity, and not graceful and extending to the whole tree, like that of the willows and Lombardy poplars. Let the reader only imagine a pond with its margin varied by alders, and the same pond varied by willows; and then reflect on the difference in the impressions which the change of each makes upon his mind. The common alder can never, with propriety, be planted in artificial scenery, where the object is to imitate nature in an artistical manner, or, in other words, so as to preserve the character of art. The reason is, the alder is so well known as an indigenous tree, that the artificial scenery in which it appears is immediately lowered to a fac-simile imitation of, or identification with, nature. Where either the geometrical or any other gardenesque method of planting is adopted, however, this principle does not apply; nor will it hold good in the case of planting any of the more striking varieties of the species; for example, the cut-leaved alder, which forms a very interesting tree, and is very fit for planting in artificial scenery, because it is never found wild in Britain, and, from its habit of growth, as well as from the form of its leaves, is in no danger of ever being mistaken for the common alder.
Poetical and mythological Allusions. antiquity, frequently mention the alder. descriptions of scenery:
And again :
Homer, Virgil, and other poets of
"From out the cover'd rock,
In living rills a gushing fountain broke:
"Where silver alders, in high arches twined,
Some poets, when treating of the fable of the Heliades, sisters of Phaethon were turned into alders instead of poplars. his Eclogues says,
"The sisters, mourning for their brother's loss,
Cowley has adopted the same fable:
"The Phaethonian alder next took place:
Odyssey, book ix.
Ibid., book xvii.
assert that the Virgil, in one
DRYDEN'S Virgil, ecl. vi.
Plants, book v.
Virgil, in another passage, alludes to the bark of the alder being full of
"As alders in the spring their boles extend,
DRYDEN'S Virgil, ecl. x.
The alder, it has been already mentioned, was used by the ancients for boats; and Professor Martyn suggests that a hollow alder, falling into the stream on the banks of which it grew, may have given the first idea of a boat to man. Virgil and Lucan both mention this use of the tree. Among the old English poets, Browne alludes to the shade of the alder not injuring the grass that grows under it: -
"The alder, whose fat shadow nourisheth,
Each plant set neere to him long flourisheth."
And Spenser speaks of the alders on the banks of the Mulla, in his Colin
"One day,' quoth he, I sate, as was my trade,
Soil and Situation. It was commonly recommended to plant the alder in swamps; and, doubtless, from its roots running near the surface, it will thrive better in such situations than many other trees; but it is a great mistake to suppose that the alder, or any other tree, will either grow rapidly, or attain a large size, except in good soils, liberally supplied with moisture, but by no means at all times soaked with it. A little reflection will convince us that, in all countries, the best soils are on the banks of rivers and lakes; because to such situations the finer earths have been carried down from the higher grounds for ages, whether these grounds have been under water, or exposed to the atmosphere. A good soil, on the margin of stagnant water, the surface of which is some feet below the surface of the ground, promises to be a more favourable situation than either the banks of a river, where the water varies in height at different periods of the year, and where there cannot be a very rich deposition of mud; or a good soil on the margin of water at, or nearly on, the same level with it. This is very well proved by two trees of about the same age: one on the flat banks of the piece of water at Syon, and the other on the raised bank of an old moat at Woburn Farm. The soil, in both cases, is equally rich; but at Syon the main roots of the tree are nearly on a level with the water, while at Woburn Farm the main roots are some feet above it. One of the most favourable situations for growing the alder for poles is, an island the side of which is 2 ft. or 3 ft. above the level of the water. Such islands, when so planted with alders, are called alder beds ; as they are called osier holts, when planted with willows. Ten years' growth in such a bed, Cobbett states, will produce poles 20 ft., or more, in length; with but ends of from 4 in. to 6 in. in diameter. The alder, Mr. Sang observes, is found in the highest perfection in moist soils; and, though it will grow freely in light elevated lands, it has a tendency in such situations to dry and impoverish the soil, not being satisfied unless it can obtain abundance of moisture. No tree, he continues, is, perhaps, equally well adapted for upholding the banks of rivers, from the great multiplicity of its roots. Evelyn is of the same opinion; and he, and all authors, agree that it will not even live in dry chalky soil.
Propagation and Culture. Evelyn says that the alder is propagated by truncheons of the stem or of the root," set as big as the small of one's leg, and in length about 2 ft.;" one end of which should be plunged in the mud." If we plant smaller sets," he says, "let them be cut at a proper season, and when the wood is of competent bigness, and mature." The Jersey manner of planting_truncheons, he adds, is by forming them into lengths of 2 ft. or 3 ft. each, at the beginning of winter; binding them in faggots, and placing the ends of them in water, till towards the end of spring. By that season, they will have contracted a callosity at their lower extremity; and, "being planted, will, like Gennetmoil apple trees, never fail of growing, and striking root." Boutcher says the alder may be propagated by cuttings of three, four, or five years' growth, planted in February or March. The Continental authors mention suckers,
layers, cuttings of the shoots, cuttings of the root, and grafting. Du Hamel says that a large stool or stump of alder, split with a hatchet into five or six pieces, and planted, will form so many trees; and, also, that if, instead of splitting this stool, it be covered over 2 in. or 3 in. deep with soil, it will, in two or three years, throw up shoots, which will become rooted plants. We have planted with success, he says, trees obtained in this way, of 7 ft., 8 ft., and 10 ft. in height, without heading them down; but, in situations exposed to the wind, they require to be cut down to within 5 in. or 6 in. of the surface of the ground. Another mode of multiplying the alder is, to cut a young branch half through at the ground, lay it down horizontally along the surface, and cover it with 2 in. of soil, when almost every bud will produce a shoot, and every shoot will form roots. We have already described this mode as employed for raising plum stocks. (See p. 690.) Notwithstanding these different modes, which are essential for the varieties, all writers agree that the species is best propagated by seeds. When large truncheons are made use of, it would appear that they only succeed satisfactorily in a very moist soil; for a writer in the Bath Society Papers, vol. vi. (published in 1792), says, "From the authority of great masters in their way, Miller, Mortimer, &c., I was induced to plant a waggon-load of alder truncheons, in 1764, in boggy places, and along the banks of a river, as directed. I was flattered, the next summer, with every prospect of success, their shoots being strong and gross; but, lo! the year following one and all perished, not having struck a single root." The writer was therefore obliged to replant the ground with rooted slips, taken from old stools, which did very well. The failure may probably have been owing to the second summer being a dry one; and, at all events, it will show the propriety of taking the precaution used in Jersey, when truncheons are employed for propagating this tree.
For raising the alder from seeds, Sang directs the catkins to be gathered in dry weather, as soon as the seeds are matured (which is easily known by the scales beginning to open), and carried to a loft, where they should be spread out thinly. "They are afterwards to be frequently turned, and the seeds will fall out in the act of turning. They are much more ready to drop out, if the loft happen to be placed above an apartment where a good fire is kept. When all the seeds which will readily come out by the above plan have escaped, and are lying on the floor, gather them up into a bag for spring sowing. The cones are then to be thrashed and sifted. Alder seeds may, like those of the birch, be sown from the tree; but, like the birch, the germinating alders are liable to be destroyed by early frosts in the spring." (Nic. Pl. Kal., p. 482.) The proper time of sowing, the same author continues, "is March; and the covering, which ought to be of very light soil, should, on no account, exceed a quarter of an inch in thickness. It being no easy thing to know the quality of alder seed," he observes," it is better to sow pretty thick, and to thin out the plants, if necessary, the following spring." The seeds are generally collected about the end of October, or the beginning of November. Where the trees overhang water, it is recommended by the Continental authors to cut off the extremities of the branches containing the catkins, and let them drop into the water, afterwards fishing them out with nets. The cones may be kept till spring, if in a perfectly dry situation, and excluded from the air. The seeds may be proved before sowing, by bruising them on the thumb nail; when, if they have any kernel, it will show a white farinaceous substance, and some appearance of oily or watery matter. All agree that, when sown, the seeds should be very slightly covered with soil. In loamy ground, one sixth part of an inch of light soil strewed over them will be found enough; and in light soils the seeds will be sufficiently covered by a good watering from the rose of a watering-pot; or the operation of covering may be left to the first shower. After the seeds are sown, it is a great advantage, in dry climates, to cover the surface of the bed with peasehaulm, fronds of firs, moss, or loose leaves; or to stretch over it close wicker hurdles, supporting them by props at about 2 in. or 3 in. above the
surface of the soil. Du Hamel obtained abundance of plants by strewing soil over the surface of the ground under a seed-bearing alder tree in autumn, after the seed had dropped. When the seed is sown in autumn, the plants will come up the following spring; and, when it is sown in spring, they will generally come up in the course of five or six weeks after sowing. Spring sowings should be made much thicker than autumnal sowings; because many of the seeds, unless they have been very carefully excluded from the air, lose their vital power during winter. The plants from spring-sown seeds will attain the height of from 3 in. to 6 in. the first summer. The second year they will be double or treble that height; and in three or four years, if properly treated, they will be 5 ft. or 6 ft. high. The nursery culture and after-management in plantations have nothing peculiar in them; except that, when full-grown trees are to be cut down, it is advisable to disbark them a year before; a practice as old as the time of Evelyn. When alders are cut down as coppicewood, in spring, when the sap is in motion, care should be taken that the cuts are not made later than March; and that they are in a sloping direction upwards. If, at this season, the cuts are made downwards, the section which remains on the stool will be so far fractured as, by the exudation of the sap, and the admission of the weather, no longer to throw up vigorous shoots, and it will decay in a few years.
Accidents, Insects, and Diseases. The alder is liable to few accidents from high winds but the Adimònia álni Fab. deposits its eggs on the young buds; and the larvæ are frequently so abundant, as to consume the leaves almost entirely. There is also a small worm, the caterpillar of some coleopterous insect, which penetrates through the bark into the wood, and ultimately destroys the trees. (Dict. des Eaux, &c.) This is probably the Callídium álni Fab., one of the longicorn beetles. A small species of jumping weevil (Orchéstes álni Leach) also attacks the leaves, as well as Phyllobius álni Fab., belonging to the same family, and Galerùca linèola Fab. (the Chrysomela grisea álni, fem., of De Geer). Amongst lepidopterous insects, Cerùra vínula, Pyga'ra bucéphala, Notodónta dromedàrius, Lophópteryx camelina, Orgyia antiqua, Zeuzèra æ'sculi, Porthèsia chrysorrhoea, all belonging to the Linnæan Bombyces; Apatèla leporina, Acronýcta álni and psi (or dagger moths), belonging to the Noctuidae; Geomètra ulmària, Drépana falcatària, and several Tortricidae and Tineidæ, feed, in the larva state, upon the alder. Some of these being, however, general feeders, are not so injurious as the others.
Statistics. Recorded Trees. The finest alder trees which Mitchell ever saw were probably the same as those alluded to by Gilpin (p.1682.), in the Bishop of Durham's park, at Bishop-Auckland, where a tree, in 1818, had a trunk which measured 11 ft. in circumference. It grew upon a knoll on a swamp. The finest alder poles the same author ever observed were in Arnold's Vale, below Sheffield Place, Sussex: in 1815, these were from 60 ft. to 70 ft. high. The alders on the banks of the river Findhorn have been already mentioned.
Existing Trees. In England, in the environs of London, at Ham House, Essex, 4. g. emarginata is 15 ft. high, the diameter of the trunk 2 ft. 4 in., and of the head 28 ft.; at Syon, A. g. laciniata (fig. 1542.) is 63 ft. high, the diameter of the trunk 3 ft., and of the head 63 ft.; at Kenwood, Hampstead, 60 years planted, the species is 60 ft. high, the diameter of the trunk 2 ft. 10 in., and of the head 60 ft. In Devonshire, at Killerton, it is 56 ft. high, with a trunk 3 ft. 3 in. in diameter: in Dorsetshire, at Melbury Park, 100 years planted, the species is 50 ft. high, the diameter of the trunk 3 ft., and of the head 46 ft.; and A. g. laciniata is 50 ft. high: in Somersetshire, at Nettlecombe, the species is 35 ft. high, the diameter of the trunk 2 ft. 10 in., and of the head 32 ft.; in Surrey, at Farnham Castle, 50 years planted, it is 50 ft. high; at Woburn Farm, 4. g. laciniata is 70 ft. high, diameter of the trunk 4 ft., and of the head 65 ft.; in Sussex, at Westdean, 4. g. laciniata, 12 years planted, is 32 ft. high; in Berkshire, at Bear Wood, 12 years planted, the species is 40 ft. high.; in Buckinghamshire, at Temple House, 40 years planted, it is 50 ft. high; in Cambridgeshire, in the Cambridge Botanic Garden, it is 50 ft. high, the diameter of the trunk 2 ft.5 in., and of the head 36 ft; in Denbighshire, at Llanbede Hall, it is 54 ft. high, the diameter of the trunk 3 ft., and of the head 34 ft.; in Herefordshire, at Eastnor Castle, 18 years planted, it is 60 ft. high in Hertfordshire, at Cheshunt, 8 years planted, it is 30 ft. high; and 10 years planted, it is 20 ft. high: in Lancashire, at Latham House, 50 years planted, it is 58 ft. high, the diameter of the trunk 3 ft., and of the head 52 ft.; A. g. laciniata, 20 years planted, is 36 ft. high: in Leicestershire, at Elvaston Castle, the species is 89 ft. high, with a trunk 2 ft. 7 in. in diameter; at Doddington Park, 35 years planted, it is 41 ft. high: in Monmouthshire, at Dowlais House, 12 years planted, it is 35 ft. high; in Northamptonshire, at Wakefield Lodge,