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

Barbara Bliss via plantbio%40net.bio.net (by bjbliss from gmail.com)
Thu Aug 6 20:08:55 EST 2009

Does Alnus have any food value? How would one prepare it?

On Thu, Aug 6, 2009 at 3:33 PM, Michael Bell <michael from beaverbell.co.uk>wrote:

>                                           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
> description.
> 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
> want.
> 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
> harvester.
> 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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