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Wednesday, March 22, 2017



 Wednesday, 8;30 AM.  22 degrees F at the ferry dock, 20 on the back porch.  Wind variable with light to moderate gusts.  The sky is partly cloudy, the humidity low, at 63%.  Today will be cooler than yesterday, but temperatures will warm into the 40's tomorrow and Friday, with a chance of rain.  The thermometer will then drop back to around freezing, with mixed skies.
   Gulls and geese are raising a ruckus along the lake shore this morning, as they begin to mate and establish territory.  Up here on the bluffs the mourning gulls are calling, as are the chickadees, and the woodpeckers are drumming on trees.  These are the sounds of spring.
   Tag alder, Alnus incana subspecies rugosa, in the birch family (Betulaceae), are nearly omnipresent large shrubs or small trees with multiple trunks in the northern landscape.  With speckled, shiny dark brown bark on young stems and trunks tag alder is easily confused with young birch saplings (see post of 4/06/15) when both are dormant, except for the persistent dried female "cones"(technically called a strobile)  that hang on the alders after seeds are shed. 
   The long, pendulous, worm-like male catkins of the alder, usually hanging in groups of three, are also very distinctive, both catkins and cones occurring on the same plant. Leaves are simple and toothed.  There are still a few "cones" left on alders at this point, but most have disintegrated and fallen off by now.  The catkins are fully developed but have not yet opened to shed their pollen, as the new female flowers buds are not mature and have not opened as yet.
   The tag alder, or speckled alder, is native in the far northeast of the North American Continent and around the Great Lakes, and inhabits wet locations, roadside ditches and disturbed areas almost to the point of ubiquity. It is replaced in the northwest  of the continent and western mountains by the thinleaf alder, and it hybridizes with the gray alder in the east.  The complicated hybridizations of these species are beyond my expertise.
   The tag alder is one of the very first plants to bloom in the north, often as early as late March, and their flowering will be completed by the end of April.

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