Hazel alder is a deciduous shrub that produces cones

We all learned that deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves in the fall) have seeds that are nuts, winged or berries, and that evergreens like pine, spruce and fir have cones. Right?

Well did you know that we have a Maryland native deciduous shrub that has cones? This would be the hazel alder (Alnus serrulata). The hazel alder is a large multi-stemmed shrub that prefers to grow in wet soils at the edge of a lake, stream or in swampy areas. The alder is in the birch family and the flowers are in the form of catkins. Alders spread by seeds or root sprouts and they form dense thickets given the chance.

Catkins and cones of a hazel alder

Hazel alder, like the other alders, is a nitrogen fixer; it takes nitrogen from the air and secretes it in the soil in a form that other plants can use. The hazel alder does this by forming a mutually beneficial relationship (symbiotic) with a bacterium where the alder feeds the bacteria with sugars that it gets from photosynthesis and the bacteria helps the alder fix the nitrogen.

Native Americans used alder bark as an antiseptic to disinfect cuts and dry up poison ivy. They also used alder in various pipe tobacco mixes along with red osier dogwood and chokeberry. Hazel alder is the only native alder found in the East, but there are nearly 30 species of alder found in North America, including the red alder, a large tree found in the Northwest. Red alder wood has been used in the manufacture of electric guitar bodies since 1963.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 11/25/2012