Red Alders: Forest Succession and the Weed Tree that Makes it Possible

Adrienne Domingus
6 min readNov 15, 2022

We had an arborist out to our house recently, because a hemlock tree nearly 80 feet tall and not a dozen feet from our house was clearly in the process of dying. Dead and dying trees are, of course, a critical part of forest ecosystems, both as habitat and providers of nutrients, but those dozen feet from our house are not a natural forest, and so that tree was a hazard that had to go.

It was located off the corner of our house where the most open part of the yard is. And so, there too was our garden — a couple raised beds that had produced a few papery heads of lettuce and some stubby carrots last year, along with radishes and rutabagas that never bulbed out, and peas that were nibbled by rabbits before we had a chance to see whether they would climb — we have some work to do on our soil and our fencing.

Also in that corner are the three young fruit trees we got from a local nursery and planted, and a fig tree that a neighbor dug up and gifted to us when they forgot to prune theirs for too many years — where one of the branches grew long and dropped down to touch the ground, it had set new roots. This reminds me of holly, but I decided to forgive the fig its similarities. Western redcedar is known to do this too; it’s no one’s fault that holly is the first tree I noticed this predilection in. I worried about the fruit trees though, and that the lettuce would remain papery even if we did improve our soil because, next to that dead or dying hemlock was also a red…