Alder ID deferred

March 04, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Alder catkins, Blue HillsAlder catkins, Blue Hills

If I were a more dedicated botanist, I would have already determined—I've been threatening to do this for years—precisely how to tell the Alders apart, even in the winter, when most of the easy characteristics have yet to appear. But I'm not as dedicated as I should be, so when I noticed the flowering catkins of a small shrub, all I could say in terms of an ID was that it belonged to the genus Alnus. I had recently met up with my granddaughter Stasia's dad at the truck stop in Lexington, Massachusetts—our usual exchange place—and I was feeling kind of blue and empty without the little imp, so to boost my spirits on a bitterly cold day, I decided to make a brief detour to trek a path that crossed a Blue Hills Reservation wetland. While I was trying to stave off frostbite, I watched the drooping collections of hardy blossoms swaying in the frigid wind. It was a cheery sight, but as I photographed the catkins glowing gold in the warmth-less late afternoon sun, I got the distinctly sinking feeling that comes when good intentions are not quite realized. A positive ID would require knowing either subtle bud characteristics or waiting until the leaves emerged to separate the Smooth from the Speckled alders. Clearly, I'm going to have to wait.


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