[Plant-biology] Seeking variations of alder for breeding it as a grain crop

Michael Bell via plantbio%40net.bio.net (by michael from beaverbell.co.uk)
Thu Aug 6 14:33:02 EST 2009

                                           10 Cambridge Avenue
                                           Forest Hall
                                           Newcastle -upon - Tyne
                                           NE12 8AR
                                           michael from beaverbell.co.uk
                                           0191 266 6435

I have embarked on a project to develop Alder (Alnus) as a grain crop,
as I describe below.

In my meaning of the word, a "grain" is a hard dry food-thing with
good keeping qualities, no matter what the exact botanical

If you look at some Alder trees and imagine that each cone was
replaced by an ear of wheat of the same size, you can see it would be
a good crop. Alders fix nitrogen, they do not need to be resown every
year, they do not cast a heavy shade, grass grows beneath them, and
animals could be pastured on the land. My original aim was to make
profitable use of the uplands of Britain, and Britain cannot feed
itself, but I see now that it could also be grown on lower land and
elsewhere in the world.

So, I am looking for trees, cuttings or seeds, which have the traits I

I am undecided between Alnus incana and A. glutinosa. Alnus incana
grows higher and further north than A. glutinosa, and it is less
dependent on water than A. glutinosa, but A. glutinosa is more
plentiful. But the two species hybridise so I am interested in both.

I foresee that the trees will be grown in rows to form a hedge. The
cones will be pulled off using a mechanical comb and threshed in
something like a combine harvester. The cones can easily be pulled off
many varieties.

By timing harvesting correctly it will probably be possible to pull
off the cones without losing seeds and then break them open in the

That said, I want the finished breed to have cones which don't open on
the tree, which are strong enough not break when pulled off the tree,
but are easy to break open in the harvester. Any steps toward that
will be welcome.

Some alder trees carry no cones (!), others carry huge numbers of
catkins and very few cones: the opposite of what I want. Walking many
miles and looking at the alders as I passed I have found a few trees
which carry vast numbers of cones on special cone-only branches,
unlike "normal" alders where the cones are carried on the
leaf-carrying branches. I can send a photo off-list. It is near 
Newcastle airport.

It is too early in the season to tell, but the seeds in these cones
will probably be the usual wretchedly small size. I want bigger.

It was easy to walk past lots of trees and from many yards away see
how many cones they were carrying. I can see no such easy way of
searching for bigger seeds, and this is where I am asking for help.

How can you search for bigger seeds?

One possibility is that if a single seed is bigger, the regular
pattern of scales will be broken by a bigger seed inside. Is this a
workable search method?

Another possibility is to sift the seeds after they have been got out
of the cones. How easy is it going to be do this by looking for
big-uns by spreading the seeds out on white paper? I have built a
seed-sifter which uses an air current from a computer cooling fan to
sort seeds by size/weight ratio. It shows promise. Have you got some
seeds which I could sort through? I can come and do it, I can bring
the sifter in my car.

Are there any better ideas?

To spread my net wide, I would be interested in any tree which has
cones which are unusual in any way.

I would be very grateful for any help with any part of this. I would
be grateful for cuttings (which preserve the gene combination which
gave rise to feature of interest) or seeds (especially if they are
big) or an invitation to see a tree of interest.

The plan is to copy the "Open Source" ideas of Linux and similar
computer systems. All those who contribute material will be offered
the results of my work.

Obviously this is a very big thing, and I would like make use of the
knowledge which some of your members surely have. I don't know how you 

would like to handle this. You may put this letter, in whole or in
part, into your own publications.

Unfortunately I have to be away at the busiest time for this, 18 Sept
- 19 Oct, to attend the wedding of my nephew to a Nepali girl in
Kathmandu. It will be a Hindu ceremony, with "heroic eating and
drinking", followed by a walk in "the hills" - the Himalayas!

Michael Bell


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