Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Alder's Hidden Charms

There isn't a lot of colour in the countryside at the moment but this brightly coloured alder timber, in a small local wood where the owner had been pruning and thinning trees, livened up a dull, grey day. Common alder is a somewhat sombre tree, so it always comes as a surprise the see the bright orange pigmentation that develops in the newly-cut wood. It looks like this particular tree was about thirty years old.

When you look a little close the colour becomes even more striking because the inner layers of bark have a distinct violet hue, similar to the colour of the tree's bud scales when they begin to swell in spring.

Alder timber isn't of much use when dry, other than for making charcoal that was particularly valued for the production of gunpowder. It's a different story, though, if the wood is kept permanently wet because then it is long-lasting. It was the favourite material for making soles of clogs, both because of its toughness when wet and because of its resistance to splitting when small nails are driven in around the edge of the wooden sole. It also made excellent piles for driving into the ground for bridge foundations.


  1. That is bright!
    Looks unreal. Fascinating.

  2. Hi Keith, It fades to pink after a while, but when it's first cut it's startling...

  3. Alder is of tremendous use to wood turners and carvers (like Pete). The ground up bark is used for emphasising carvings and making wood stains for violins.

  4. Thanks snippa, that's fascinating -I had no idea that it as used for that, although I did read somewhere that you can get a good black dye from the bark. I'll pass the information on to my brother who's interested in wood carving - he has a blog at