Working with Alder
This week I have been dyeing with Alder. The Alder tree is native to Britain and is a special part of my Loch Ness Woodland Collection of yarn.
Alder trees are specialists at thriving in wet swampy conditions, just like those found on the banks of Loch Ness where the Rivers of the Coiltie and the Enrick meet to discharge into the Loch.
The woodland around these rivers is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) meaning it is protected and managed to preserve the special diversity of plant and animal life that live there.
In many parts of the world swampy wet areas have been drained for farming, building or other projects. Unfortunately the loss of this habitat is devastating for wildlife and, as we are learning, for humans. This is because areas of swampy wetland hold large quantities of water, which can act as a natural flood defence for surrounding areas.
Mature trees suck up and store hundreds of litres of water, but not all trees enjoy the kind of all year round dampness that occurs in wetlands. Many varieties would weaken and rot, the Alder thrives in such conditions. The constant wetness actually strengthens the wood, making it great for boat building.
Alder is a traditional dye material and gives a range of colours from green, yellow to a reddish brown. The wood is particularly interesting work work with as the oxidisation of the tannin in the wood gives the impression that the 'bleeds' when the tree is damaged. This has given the poor Alder an underserved reputation as an unlucky tree and one to be avoided.
Our Alder woodland is protected and therefore not harvested, but occasionally trees are damaged in storms, removed due to disease or trimmed as part of woodland management. When this happens I'm always ready to collect the leaves, cones and wood for dyeing.