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Alnus glutinosa, the common alder, black alder, European alder, European black alder, or just alder, is a species of tree in the family Betulaceae, native to most of Europe, southwest Asia and northern Africa. It thrives in wet locations where its association with the bacterium Frankia alni enables it to grow in poor quality soils. It is a medium-sized, short-lived tree growing to a height of up to 30 metres (100 ft). It has short-stalked rounded leaves and separate male and female flowers in the form of catkins. The small, rounded fruits are cone-like and the seeds are dispersed by wind and water.
Because of its abundance, red alder delivers large amounts of nitrogen to enrich forest soils. Red alder stands have been found to supply between 130 to 320 kilograms per hectare (120 to 290 pounds per acre) of nitrogen annually to the soil. From Alaska to Oregon, Alnus viridis subsp. sinuata (A. sinuata, Sitka Alder or Slide Alder), characteristically pioneer fresh, gravelly sites at the foot of retreating glaciers. Studies show that Sitka alder, a more shrubby variety of alder, adds nitrogen to the soil at an average rate of 60 kg/ha (54 lb/acre) per year, helping convert the sterile glacial terrain to soil capable of supporting a conifer forest. Alders are common among the first species to colonize disturbed areas from floods, windstorms, fires, landslides, etc. Alder groves often serve as natural firebreaks since these broad-leaved trees are much less flammable than conifers. Their foliage and leaf litter does not carry a fire well, and their thin bark is sufficiently resistant to protect them from light surface fires. In addition, the light weight of alder seeds – 1.5 million per kilogram or 680,000 per pound – allows for easy dispersal by the wind.
Although it outgrows coastal Douglas-fir for the first 25 years, it is very shade intolerant and seldom lives more than 100 years. Red alder is the Pacific Northwest's largest alder and the most plentiful and commercially important broad-leaved tree in the coastal Northwest. Groves of red alder 25 to 50 cm (10 to 20 in) in diameter intermingle with young Douglas-fir forests west of the Cascades, attaining a maximum height of 30 to 33 m (100 to 110 ft) in about sixty years and then lose vigor as heart rot sets in. Alders largely help create conditions favorable for giant conifers that replace them.Some Native American cultures use red alder bark (Alnus rubra) to treat poison oak, insect bites, and skin irritations. Blackfeet Indians have traditionally 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. (Source: en.wikipedia.org)