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Thursday, April 20, 2017




Thursday, 8:45 AM.  38 degrees F at the ferry dock, 35  on the back porch.  Wind north, very gusty.  The sky is overcast and it is raining, a cold, pelting rain; the humidity is 94%.  The barometer is steady, at 29.95".  The forecast is for continuing cold temperatures with possible snow today, then warming into the 40's and clear Friday and Saturday, then cooling off with chances or snow or rain into next week.  The daffodils are shivering, they can take it, but Buddy and I are wet and chilled from our walk, and my shoulder aches.
   I have written a lot about tag alder in posts over the years, because it is so prevalent, and as an indicator of the advent of spring, but it can bloom over a long period and is difficult to determine exactly when it is in full bloom, at least for me; but for purposes of phenology (tracking the dates of the blooming of flowering plants) the following are my dates of record: 4/20/17; 4/17/16; 4/22/15; 4/15/14; 4/29/13; 4/11/11. These are pretty consistent dates, considering we have had some relatively severe and also relatively mild winters within those years, and correspondingly early or late springs. 
  Tag alder, or speckled alder,  Alnus incana, is a common large, multiple-stemmed shrub (occasionally small tree) of wet areas throughout most of North America except the South and the prairie states.  It can occupy huge areas that have been cut over, particularly in the North (in my observation).  It is called speckled because of the light colored lenticels (specialized organs for  atmospheric gas exchange) that occur on its reddish, cherry-like bark.  I do not know the derivation of the name "tag alder."
   Alnus incana has several synonyms, including A. serrulata and A rugosa, and there are a number of other species of alder with which it hybridizes, particularly at the edges of its range, so I can't get too particular as to its exact botanical classification.  Additionally, there is a larger European species, A glutinosa, which is occasionally used as a street tree.
   The alders have a light, useful wood but probably none but the European species becomes large enough in trunk diameter to be milled.  The genus also has considerable folk medicinal value, as all parts of the plant contain salicilates (the main constituent of aspirin), and  alder bark was used in kinnikinick, the American Indian smoking mixture.
   Alders are nitrogen fixing plants, and a western species is important in preparing mountain soils for forestation; they are intolerant to heavy shade and thus are a natural nurse crop for Douglas fir and other forest trees, which shade the alders out as they grow.
    Like many people, tag alders don't seem very useful or important until we really get to know them.

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