Instructables

Harvesting Alder Bark

Picture of Harvesting Alder Bark
Participants at Week in the Woods (http://weekinthewoods.org/) harvested alder bark to make small containers. Alder is relatively fast growing nitrogen fixing shrub that is used for wood carving and meat smoking in Alaska. Unlike birch bark harvesting, alder bark harvesting damages the plant because the cambium and outer-bark will not separate. Each limb that has the bark removed will be girdled and will die. As long as less than 1/3 of the plant is harvested the entire plant should recover (alders are accustom to heavy grazing). The limbs that were girdled in the bark harvesting process were later turned into chair legs. Participants also used this technique to harvest spruce bark and persumably it could be used to harvest many other types of trees.

These photos were taken by Alex Kamerling.
 
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Step 1: Tools and Materials

Picture of Tools and Materials
A knife, a stand of alder, and a warm summer day are all that are needed. Alder is can be distinguished from other Alaskan trees because it has broad leaves and cones.

Step 2: Cutting

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Make a vertical cut down the trunk of the tree.

Step 3: Sliding off the Bark

Peel the bark away from the wood. The bark can be removed by sliding a hand between the bark and the wood and slowly working around the tree.

Step 4: Start a Project

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Participants at Week in the Woods made small containers from alder bark. See that project in the my next Instructable.
I think I'm confused. If "alder bark harvesting kills the plant because the cambium and outer-bark will not separate," why do you do it? Or are you only harvesting the bark from dead limbs?
Boreal House (author)  scoochmaroo1 year ago
Thanks for asking! I changed the wording slightly in the Instructable in an attempt to clarify things "Unlike birch bark harvesting, alder bark harvesting damages the plant because the cambium and outer-bark will not separate. Each limb that has the bark removed will be girdled and will die. As long as less than 1/3 of the plant is harvested the entire plant should recover (alders are accustom to heavy grazing)."

However, your question of "why" is still valid. I believe that the answer is that, each bark has unique working properties. Alder bark flexes and splits differently than birch. Alder bark can be scored and bent in a way that would be likely to crack birch bark. Additionally, I think alder bark makes a stiffer container when it dries.

Ecologically, harvesting some alder limbs probably is not problematic. Alder is an abundant fast growing plant. Alders are accustom to heavy grazing - they recover quickly, and many trees are more vigorous after moderate pruning. Additionally, the life and death of alder is of incredible importance in the local forest cycle. Alder is the main nitrogen fixing plant in interior Alaska. Birch and spruce have a symbiotic (if not downright parasitic) relationship with alder. The most vigorous birch and spruce saplings are those that grow in or near a clump of alder. Eventually, the birch and spruce shade out and kill the alder (the alder will rebound as soon as clearing opens in the canopy).


Thank you for such a robust response!
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