An Ode to Alder

An Ode to Alder

It has been brought to my attention that there was recently a massive alder kill near Naselle, caused by the application of herbicide to eradicate knotweed near the banks of a stream. To add insult to injury, evidently tansy ragwort, another so-called noxious weed, replaced the some of the knotweed killed in the attack. And most of the knotweed survived.

Now some of you are probably saying “good riddance” to the alders that were sacrificed in the name of invasive species destruction. Alders are considered noxious weeds themselves by many in the area, though they are not on any official lists that would doom them to oblivion. They certainly have some of the characteristics of invasive species, such as the ability to take over a field or garden, but they are native to the Pacific Northwest, so they can’t be invasive, by definition.

My son brought home a red alder (Alnus rubra) sapling 6 years ago that he got at school from Weyerhaeuser. I planted it in our backyard, which I was converting from a lawn with a treed border to a (mostly) native forest. This 10-inch twig is now a 30-foot (give or take a few) tree, dwarfing most of the other trees in the yard.

Not only did this tree grow amazingly fast, but it seems to have spawned a small forest of alders. Now it could be that the younger alders now growing in my yard came from neighboring properties, or just from birds, but I think our original alder is probably the proud mama and papa. So I can vouch for the alder’s ability to grow and spread quickly.

But I don’t have a plan for eradication of my alders.

In fact, I love alders. They seem to me the perfect deciduous tree for the garden. They require almost no care, grow quickly, have beautiful leaves and structure, and most importantly, fix nitrogen in the soil, supplying fertilizer not only to themselves, but to neighboring plants.

A quick look at the Wikipedia entry for alders gave me more reasons to love them. The catkins (fruit) of some alder species are edible (though bitter), and rich in protein. The wood of certain alder species is often used to smoke various food items, especially salmon and other seafood (I still fondly remember eating my son’s catch from a fishing trip some years back after it was prepared by a neighbor and cooked over alder planks).

It turns out most of the pilings that form the foundation of Venice were made from alder trees.

Alder bark contains the anti-inflammatory salicin, which is metabolized into salicylic acid in the body. Native Americans accordingly used red alder bark to treat poison oak, insect bites, and skin irritations. Blackfeet Indians used an infusion made from the bark of red alder to treat lymphatic disorders and tuberculosis. Recent clinical studies have verified that red alder contains betulin and lupeol, compounds shown to be effective against a variety of tumors.

(I particularly like this one.) Electric guitars, most notably the Fender Stratocaster and Fender Telecaster, have been built with alder bodies since the 1950s.

And of course, alder is used in making furniture and cabinets and other woodworking products.

Red alder is harvested in Oregon as a commercial hardwood, and according to the OSU Wood Innovation Center, is about 60% of the hardwood inventory in the state. So others see the value of this amazing tree too.

On my weekday walks to and from work, I get to first pass a lot down the street that is being colonized by alder (with some Scotch broom), and then the woods that line Irving Avenue on the east side of town. These woods seem to be predominantly alder, after logging in the 90s and the recent Great Gale of 2007. You can see conifers growing up in between the alders, biding their time until the fast-growing deciduous trees die off and allow them to dominate once again (if we let them). It’s a beautiful place, born of the landslides of the 1950s, and I hope we have the foresight to let it evolve in peace.

Well, our amazing Indian summer is bound to come to a close sometime soon, and I promised my wife that I will prune the alders in our back yard when their leaves are gone. I won’t have anything big enough for a Stratocaster or a chair, but maybe I can use some of the wood to smoke some salmon. Alder – the gift that keeps on giving!


There’s A Journal For Everything

“Invasive species – plants, animals, and microbes introduced to regions beyond their native range – carry a global price tag of $1.4 trillion dollars. They are responsible for the loss of natural resources and biodiversity, damages to infrastructure, and an uptick in infectious diseases.”

The above paragraph comes from an article in the Columbia Basin Bulletin, entitled Ability Weakening To Prevent Invasive Species And Predict Impacts to Ecosystems, Infrastructure, posted to the bulletin’s website on August 24. The article is a review of research into the efficacy of invasion biology hypotheses, published in the on-line journal NeoBiota (, under the title Support for major hypotheses in invasion biology is uneven and declining, authored by Jonathan M. Jeschke, Lorena Gómez Aparicio, Sylvia Haider, Tina Heger, Christopher J. Lortie, Petr Py ek and David L. Strayer (the Bulletin article had no attributed author, so we’ll assume their editorial staff wrote it). I didn’t see any mention of $1.4 trillion in the NeoBiota article, and a casual look at a reference that purported to know the economic damage in the U.S. of invasive species put the price tag at $120 billion a year here.

We are entering the election silly season, where ridiculous statistics are quoted as fact all the time, so maybe the Bulletin quote comes from one of the candidates for office somewhere. But it seems completely arbitrary to me, and since there is no reference, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to find out if they’re right or not. It certainly sounds like a lot of money, and the effects of these creatures sound really bad.

So, words of caution – don’t take everything you read, hear or see for granted. Do your research, and try to find the sources that are responsible for all these assertions.

Anyway, back to NeoBiota. As readers of this column know, I have featured the work of David Theodoropolous, who argues in his book, Invasion Biology – Critique of a Pseudoscience, that many of the tenets of invasion biology are not backed up by data. Well, along comes an article in a journal – which supposedly means that serious people with PhDs are studying and obtaining grants from scientific institutions to further the science, because that’s what journals are for – that is, according to its website, “advancing research on alien species and biological invasions,” that argues that the tenets of invasion biology, yes, you guessed it, are not backed up by the data!

Now reading the other articles in NeoBiota, you’d never get the impression that invasion biology was a pseudoscience.

The articles are well-written, heavily referenced, and use technology very well to enable readers to instantly see and go to on-line references. The authors are legitimate scientists, and the journal follows all the conventions that I’ve seen in other scholarly journals. Which usually means that the science the journal is talking about is real.

With the proliferation of publishing that electronic tools allow, we’ve seen an amazing diversity of journals for just about any topic you can think of. One of my favorites is the Journal of Irreproducible Results, founded by two scientists in Israel in the 1950s, which according to its website ( “offers spoofs, parodies, whimsies, burlesques, lampoons, and satires. JIR appeals to scientists, doctors, science teachers, and word-lovers.

JIR targets hypocrisy, arrogance, and ostentatious sesquipedalian circumlocution. We’re a friendly escape from the harsh and the hassle. JIR makes you feel good :-).” This journal was launched by scientists for scientists, and obviously has a following.

NeoBiota was also launched by scientists for scientists. “Pensoft Publishers [publisher of NeoBiota] was conceived during the Christmas/New Year festivities of 1993-94, when we, Penev and Golovatch, with families, were enjoying Bulgarian wine and food at the southern Bulgarian resort Ognyanovo. It was then that the idea came to us, that we should cooperate in a publishing venture – active scientists publishing for other active scientists! It occurred to us that, in the publishing area of environmental/life sciences wherein lay our expertise, there was clearly an empty niche begging occupation.” (from the NeoBiota website) Well, a few years down the line, this Bulgarian enterprise is very much alive and growing. “In less than 10 years, Pensoft has become the leading Publisher and Bookseller of natural science books in Eastern Europe and Russia. As booksellers and agents, we have expanded our areas of interest from Zoology, Botany, Earth and Environmental Sciences, to encompass also Mathematics, Physics, History, Archaeology, Linguistics, Business, Finance, etc. Hence, much of the very often, mostly unwillingly, neglected treasure represented by Russian or Bulgarian, or other East European/Balkan literature in various branches of natural, medical and humanitarian sciences, has been opened to the western reader and has become accessible due to our efforts.” (again, from the website) Well, it’s free, and is willing to publish an article that calls into question the whole basis for the journal. I don’t know about you, but I’m subscribing today. Happy reading!