Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Alder Tree [18 March – 14 April]

20170315 month of the alder tree EPHEMERASpring is in the air, and this Saturday, 18 March sees the start of the next Celtic tree month. It’s the start of the month of the Alder Tree.

Essential data
Month: Alder Tree
Dates: 18 March – 14 April
Common name: Alder, common alder, black alder, European alder
Celtic name: Fearn (pronounced: fair-un).
Scientific name: Alnus glutinosa
UK provenance: Alder is native to Britain and is also found throughout Europe as far as Siberia.

About the tree
The alder tree is noted for its important  relationship with a nitrogen-fixing bacterium called Frankia alni. This bacterium is found in the root nodules. The bacterium absorbs nitrogen from the air and makes it available to the tree. Alder, in turn, provides the bacterium with sugars, which it produces through photosynthesis. Symbiosis.

As a result of this mutually beneficial relationship, alder improves the fertility of the soil where it grows, and as a pioneer species, it helps provide additional nitrogen for the successional species which follow it.

I think that I shall never see
a poem lovely as a tree.

Joyce Kilmer

The alder tree is conical in shape, and mature trees can reach a height of around 20m and live for about 60 years. The bark is dark and fissured and is often covered in lichen. Twigs have a light brown spotted stem which turns red towards the top. Young twigs are sticky to touch.

The tree’s leaves are purple or grey leaf buds form on long stems and the 3–9cm long dark green leaves are racquet-shaped and leathery to the touch, with serrated edges. The leaf tip is never pointed and is often indented.

Flowers are on catkins which appear between February and April. Alder is monoecious, and so both male and female flowers are found on the same tree. Male catkins are yellow, whilst the female catkins are green and oval-shaped.

Usage
The Alder tree provides good wood for building materials. The sap, leaves and bark of the alder were all used to make dyes; green from the leaves, red from the sap and brown from the bark. The dyes were often used to tan leather. Wood of the alder is flexible and resistant to the rotting effects of water, and, so very good for building materials in a temperate climate.

Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.

Robert Frost

The alder tree’s root system is often submerged in watery areas. In such places, the ancient Celts observed that the roots served as as intricate shelter system to fish, specifically trout and salmon.

Myth
The alder tree is generally seen near streams and riverbanks, and it’s for that reason that the ancient Druids called this tree ‘The Water King’.

The alder tree, and this month, is said to be associated with enthusiasm, courage, spiritual maturity, giving, risk-taking and adventurousness.

Although, primarily associated with the element of water, the alder tree gracefully crosses into the realm of air and fire, also. For instance, ancient legend indicates the wood of the young alder tree was traditionally used for crafting whistles, pan flutes and recorders. Note the air element, here. Within the realm of fire, the alder’s colouring transmutes into a fiery orange after it is cut, indicating to the Celts that the alder secretly harbours a sacred flame within. As if to prove this point, the wood makes a pristine grade of charcoal, and was perfect for steadily hot conditions utilized to forge fine Celtic weaponry.

In Irish mythology the first man was said to have been made from the alder tree. It is also considered a tree of the fairies, protected by the water fairy-folk but also representing fire and earth. Some believe faeries like to dance under these trees, especially, when they are flowering.

The trees along this city street,
Save for the traffic and the trains,
Would make a sound as thin and sweet
As trees in country lanes.

And people standing in their shade
Out of a shower, undoubtedly
Would hear such music as is made

Upon a country tree.

Oh, little leaves that are so dumb
Against the shrieking city air,
I watch you when the wind has come,—
I know what sound is there.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Celebration
If you wish to celebrate, I’d recommend an evening celebration on Saturday evening, though ancient tribes (and some, today, still) would celebrate the evening before, reckoning that the new day started the evening before (from our point of view). So, you might want to celebrate Friday evening.

Celebration can take many forms. At home, it could be lighting a candle in honour of the alder tree and the One behind it; and/or gazing at a picture of an alder tree and then gently meditating, or recitation of a favourite tree-honouring poem. Outdoors, if you have an alder tree nearby, you might like to visit it, gaze at it, and dwell there for a few minutes, giving thanks for nature in general, trees especially, and the alder tree in particular. Whatever you do, my encouragement is to keep it simple, keep it tree-honouring, and take time just to think, meditate and ponder on the wondrous alder tree. And, enjoy it.

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