Common Alder Identification

The Common Alder Alnus glutinosa is native to Britain, Europe, western Asia and north Africa. It grows naturally in damp areas such as river banks and beside lakes but it is now planted in many urban areas. Like all Alders it can add nitrogen to the soil and so is frequently used on reclamation sites. The tree can be confused with two other Alders, the Grey Alder and the Italian Alder, both of which are planted in urban areas.For more about these Alders click HERE Common Alder identification is by its notched leaf, its male catkins and its female cone-like catkins which are intermediate in size between the other two. To learn more about the Italian Alder click HERE

Alders have male and female flowers on the same tree. The flowers have no petals, they take the form of catkins. Male catkins are formed in spring, grow upright through the summer and then hang down through the winter until they shed pollen in February/March. Female flowers are pollinated in February/March, grow into round green cone-like catkins in the summer and turn brown and shed seeds in autumn and winter. Female catkins stay on the tree through the winter and the following summer.

Common Alder tree

A group of Common Alders by a lake, in August.

Common Alder leaf

This is the typical leaf shape, round with a notch at the end.

Common Alder female catkins
Female catkins stay on the tree throughout the year. This photograph was taken in July. The catkins look like conifer cones. They are smaller than those of the Italian Alder and larger than those of the Grey Alder. These catkins are open and will have released seeds during the previous autumn and winter.
Common Alder male catkins

New male catkins in October. They will release pollen in the following February.

Male catkins stay on the tree after they have shed their pollen in February. This photograph was taken in June. They then drop off as new ones grow.
Common Alder bark
The bark of young and old trees is cracked into square plates. This is different from the smooth bark of the Italian and Grey Alders.

Buds are on short stalks (late November). Twigs and buds are purple.

The buds are flattened like a paddle (late November).

A Common Alder at the end of January still bearing last year’s cones.