Alder belongs to the same family as Birch (Betulaceae). It rarely grows to more than 20 metres or lives longer than 150 years. It grows quickly and is short lived – typical of pioneer species. It fixes nitrogen and generally improves the soil. Wood (from coppiced Alder trees) was used for clog making at one time and is said to be good for charcoal making.
Alder is generally found along banks of streams and on damp ground. It is rare to find alder growing on good dry soil.
While it is easily recognised by its dark bark and broad round leaves, it can be mistakenly identified as ash but careful examination will quickly dispel any such confusion. New growth turns dark brown with fuzzy buds in winter.
The bark is always dull and characterless so it is almost always stripped when used for making sticks. When stripped the heartwood is slightly yellow in colour. Because it is not prone to splitting, is extremely water resistant and is very light it is often used for stickmaking.
The leaves are rounded but tapering towards the leaf stalk. Some describe it as being pear-shaped. The margin is toothed, but there are fewer teeth towards the petiole. The apex of the leaf is quite rounded. 6-8 pairs of veins, which are almost ‘sunken’ into the surrounding leaf tissue.The leaves tend to remain on the trees until quite late in the year.