In Praise of the Alder Buckthorn Tree

Alnus Frangula. This ‘widespread but rare’ tree (Woodland Trust) is the food plant of the lovely Yellow Brimstone butterfly. We planted just one, 40 years ago, in an area of the property that is now a fairly dense outgrown hedge, and it is from this corner that Yellow Brimstones regularly appear at the arrival of Spring.

Their name is both a reference to the colour of sulphur (brimstone) and of butter, thus giving their name to the entire genus of butterflies. They are the first to arrive in Spring, the adults having overwintered in some secluded place. You have to wonder where; it seems like a miracle that they make it through till Spring.

When we started to plant trees in our communally acquired field Wild Lea two and a half years ago, Alder Buckthorn was pretty high on the list, principally to encourage the Brimstone. We now have around 30 in a planting of 1000 trees, and as fast growing ‘pioneer’ trees, they are doing very well. But I didn’t expect to see this quite yet:

A Brimstone caterpillar – two to be precise but just the jaws visible of the one behind the leaf. To me this was just the best news for ages; I was beside myself… you plant a tree, and the bugs come. Rewilding in action. I examined the rest of our Alder Buckthorns, and just about every one had a couple of caterpillars. There may be swathes of Brimstones next Spring, how simply incredible.

My eyes were then drawn to the flowers of the Alder Buckthorn. Tiny little florets, and bees had arrived: small bumbles that whisked from flower to flower, pollinating for the berries that will develop later in the year, berries that are apparently a vital winter food for thrushes (looking forward to them ‘arriving’ too).

PS there is a quiet beauty to the Alder Buckthorn, but it has a very jazzy trunk

and several dyes can be made from its leaves, berries and bark: green, yellow and blue/grey.

So many reasons here to be cheerful – and to plant Alder Buckthorn! (that’s a hint)

In Praise of the Alder Buckthorn Tree
  1. Debs said:

    How lovely and deeply satisfying 😊

  2. Nicholas Mann said:

    Lovely post Bron. Thanks very much.

    Nicholas X

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