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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Hunt for Red Alder

The past few years I have been landscaping our lot to better block the view of the road. I've been planting trees, and I have not had a whole lot of tree types to choose from. Basically, Kodiak only has 6 native tree species - cottonwood, black birch, sitka spruce, willow, elderberry and sitka alder. Of those I would only consider Sitka Spruce, Black birch and cottonwoods to be 'real' trees. In addition to the local choices, people in Kodiak also plant Mountain Ash, 'Red' maples, bird cherries, apples, and golden chain trees. None of these trees do particularly well on Kodiak or get really tall. I am from New England originally and I want TALL trees - I miss the elm and oak trees of my youth.

When I started the process of planting trees I looked around to see what trees seem to be doing best. For the most part, if you want tall trees you are limited to spruce or cottonwoods. And I did plant a few cottonwoods in my yard. However, while driving around town I noticed one species of tree that I could not immediately identify. The best example is growing in front of the ADF&G building downtown. I learned that it is a Red alder and is native to Southeast Alaska. A fish and game employee planted the 2 red alders in the late 1970s. Once I had my eyes keyed in I noted that there are a few red alders scattered all about town. I found some by the old Griffin building, on Near Island, in the Aleutian home neighborhood, by the Senior Center and even out by Mill Bay Coffee. They are a beautiful, tall tree and I decided that I had to have one.

But they are not something you can just buy at the nursery. In fact alders in general have a pretty bad reputation. I feel that our local sitka alder (alnus sinuata) has earned and deserves this reputation. Kodiak is famous for its hillsides of 'alder hell'. Not the kind of forest I like to hike through. I wonder if sitka alder gets its latin name 'sinuata' because it is sinuous - bendy and low? However, Red Alder (alnus rubra) is a completely different tree. It grows up to 90 feet tall with one main trunk. Nonetheless, red alder is considered a 'trash' tree, and no one provides them for landscaping. You have to find them on your own.

So I've been looking for a baby red alder to plant. I've called people who have big trees next to their houses, and looked for baby volunteers under other big trees I've found. The hard part is that it is very difficult to tell the difference between baby sitka and red alders. And once they get big it is too difficult to transplant them. Also one has to get the landowner's permission to dig one up.

I had no luck until Sunday when I finally did find find what I think is a baby red alder. I got permission to dig it up and now it is in our yard. Only ... ..... .. . I hope it really is a red alder, and that I did not go through a whole lot of effort to transplant a sitka alder. I'll know in a year or so. By hook or by crook I will have a Red alder in our yard! Patrick

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