27 Jun 2022

KILDARE WILDLIFE WATCH: Alders: the electric guitar heroes

Bog of Allen Nature Centre

KILDARE WILDLIFE WATCH: Alders: the electric guitar heroes

The alder, pictured along the banks of the Grand Canal in Monasterevin. Picture: Nuala Madigan

Trees are invaluable — they provide us with building material and wood for heating homes, and they are a habitat for birds, mammals, invertebrates, lichens, mosses and even some wildflowers. When we are caught in an unexpected shower of rain, we take shelter beneath their canopies and on warm sunny days they offer us shade.

Many varieties of trees provide food to us and their seeds provide a plentiful supply for birds and mammals.

Trees are the most dominant and successful wild species in our communities. Each autumn as they hibernate, unlike many wild flowers which have to retreat beneath the soil’s surface from the freezing winter conditions, trees simply pause their growth as their structure is protected by an insulating bark.

I recently found alder (fearnóg as Gaeilge) growing along the banks of the Grand Canal in Monasterevin.

This species of tree is a member of the birch family of trees, which prefers wet ground and is often found found growing along the banks of rivers and canals and in wet woodlands.

Similar to most trees the roots of the alder are an important stabiliser for the bank edges of rivers and canals, and help to absorb excess nutrients, so preventing them from entering the body of water.

Blackthorn is one species of tree that produces its flower before the leaves emerge, and alder also produces its flowers in spring before the leaves burst open from their buds. The flowers are called catkins.

Each alder tree host both male and female catkins. The females are shorter than the males, and pollination is mainly carried out by the wind. The leaves are a dark green colour, and are alternate, meaning that each leaf is attached to a node and leaves have serrated edges.

The most notable uses of alder include the bark, which contains tannin that is used to tan leather while the wood has been used to make Fender musical instruments such as their electric guitars since the 1950s.

If you would like to suggest a species to focus on for ‘Wildlife Watch’ contact the Bog of Allen Nature Centre on 045 860133 or email

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