Set A update: grey alders (December 2013)

While I was back down in Yorkshire for Christmas my father and I went off to check up on the Treeblog Set A grey alders, which have now been fending for themselves in the wild since April 2010. I am pleased to report that on the day of our visit - the 28th of December (Set A Day 2467) - all three trees were alive and looking as healthy as they possibly could be for deciduous trees in the middle of winter. I last visited my alders in June with a couple of friends, when we filmed this video outlining their story so far…


So what has changed in the intervening six months?

Grey alder No. 1 on the 28th of December with my father for scale. Despite being solidly stuck into the ground, No. 1 leans significantly to the north. I think this lean has become more pronounced since my last visit, presumably because of the lack of shelter from wind funnelling down the wee valley No. 1 calls home.

I’m not particularly bothered by the lean. Who knows? Perhaps it will correct itself. The neighbouring rowans hardly seem to have been bothered too much by the wind.

Mature female catkins on grey alder No. 1.

On this visit I counted two clusters of mixed immature male and female catkins and five clusters of mature female catkins, or ‘cones’. I first noticed catkins on No. 1 in March 2012 – back then it was a single cluster of immature female catkins (with the attached remains of a solitary flowering male catkin). On a visit in October 2012 these female catkins had progressed to near-enough full size but were still green; I also noticed a couple of clusters of immature male catkins (preparing to flower in spring 2013). On my last visit, in June 2013, I saw a few clusters of immature female catkins – these are now matured into the woody cones I saw a couple of weeks ago.

The nasty grazing wounds inflicted on No. 1’s lower stem soon after planting out are continuing to close up as more woundwood is laid down. It looks like a rabbit has left droppings here too, although why it needed to leave them so close up against my tree is unclear.

You may or may not know this but alder No. 1 stands about 2 km away from Nos. 2 & 3. A fortnight after planting Nos. 2 & 3, my father and I planted Nos. 1 & 4* on the 14th of April 2010 and afterwards, for whatever reason, we left a record of our passing by on my preferred route between the two spots. We scrawled a message on a piece of papery downy birch bark and hid it in a nook beside an ancient stream crossing point. Rather surprisingly, that piece of bark remains in a remarkably well-preserved state in that very nook to this day! Here it is on the 28th of December…

* Grey alder No. 4 was sadly eaten to death by sheep within a year of being planted out.

…and here it is on the day we left it there, almost four years ago!

Grey alder No. 2 on the 28th of December. Still the best of the alders - it has the straightest stem, no stem damage from sheep, and by far the most catkins.

Silhouetted against the sky at twilight, three woody cones (2013’s female catkins) take centre stage while multiple clusters of immature male catkins hang in the background, biding their time until spring arrives.* Besides the three cones in this photo there was another one on its own, three clusters of female-only immature catkins, and 18 clusters of mixed male/female immature catkins. No. 2 had no catkins at all in 2012, but on my visit in June 2013 I counted at least six clusters of immature female catkins (no male catkins though).

* Interestingly, while walking around Drummond Hill up near Loch Tay on the 3rd of January I noticed an alder (probably common alder, Alnus glutinosa) and a couple of hazels (Corylus avellana) that were already unfurling their male catkins into spring mode! A bit early, surely? And yesterday, in Edinburgh, I noticed a couple of hazels by the Water of Leith that were doing exactly the same thing. Is this because of an unusually mild winter? Back in Sheffield I wouldn’t expect to see alder or hazel catkins flowering until February.

This bark on the stem of alder No. 2 caught my eye – there’s something snakeish about it.

Grey alder No. 3 – very tall and sturdy.

No. 3 had its top broken out in April 2011. I don’t know what happened to cause that, but it recovered quickly and all that remains to tell of that distant event is a slight kink in the stem, plus a fragment of the old broken leader. The kink is apparent in the full-tree photo above and shows that No. 3 has roughly doubled in height over the last two-and-a-half years.

I couldn’t find any cones or catkins on No. 3 on this visit, nor could I find any in June 2012. In October 2011 however, I spotted at least six clusters of immature male catkins.

As you can see by this shot of its base, No. 3 is now almost totally ‘recovered’ from the early sheep damage. Hopefully 2014 will see all of the stem wounds nicely sealed up.

Now then, if you’re desperate for some stats I’m afraid I don’t have any up-to-date height measurements… but please feast your eyes on these stem girth measurements taken at both ground level and 1.5 metres from the ground:

Grey alder Stem circ. at base (cm)
Oct 2012
Stem circ. at base (cm)
Jun 2013
Stem circ. at base (cm)
Dec 2013
Oct ’12 – Dec ’13 Increase (cm)
No. 1 15 14 15 0
No. 2 18 18 19 1
No. 3 18 19 21 3
Grey alder Stem circ. at 1.5 m (cm)
Oct 2012
Stem circ. at 1.5 m (cm)
Jun 2013
Stem circ. at 1.5 m (cm)
Dec 2013
Oct ’12 – Dec ’13 Increase (cm)
No. 1 7 8 8 1
No. 2 9 10 11 2
No. 3 9 10 12 3

No. 3 is doing well for itself, isn’t it? I’ll be back to visit the alders again in the summer, when I’ll try to get some height measurements. Will we be seeing a five metre tall Treeblog tree in 2014?


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