Alnus nitida (Spach) Endl.

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Credits

Tim Baxter & Hugh A. McAllister (2024)

Recommended citation
Baxter, T. & McAllister, H.A. (2024), 'Alnus nitida' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online (treesandshrubsonline.org/articles/alnus/alnus-nitida/). Accessed 2024-05-20.

Genus

Common Names

  • West Himalayan Alder
  • Sharol
  • Utis

Synonyms

  • Clethropsis nitida Spach

Glossary

cordate
Heart-shaped (i.e. with two equal lobes at the base).
craspedodromous
Pattern of leaf venation whereby the lateral veins run straight out to leaf margin. (Cf. camptodromous.)
lax
Loose or open.
ovate
Egg-shaped; broadest towards the stem.
pistillate
Female referring to female plants (dioecy) or flowers (monoecy) or the female parts of a hermaphrodite flower.
staminate
Male referring to male plants (dioecy) or flowers (monoecy) or the male parts of a hermaphrodite flower.
truncate
Appearing as if cut off.
venation
Pattern of veins (nerves) especially in a leaf.

Credits

Tim Baxter & Hugh A. McAllister (2024)

Recommended citation
Baxter, T. & McAllister, H.A. (2024), 'Alnus nitida' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online (treesandshrubsonline.org/articles/alnus/alnus-nitida/). Accessed 2024-05-20.

Tree to 30 m. Bark blackish to silvery grey, fissured when older. Young shoots grey-green, pubescent, becoming glabrescent when old. Buds 4 × 2 mm, stipitate, several rather distant imbricate scales, green, pubescent. Leaves ovate to elliptic-ovate, 5–15 × 3–9 cm, base cuneate to rounded, apex acute to acuminate, blade margins remotely serrate and often slightly sinuous, adaxially glabrous, abaxially pubescent to pilose, pubescent along veins and with hairy domatia, craspedodromous, 8–12 pairs of secondary veins, with regular inter-secondary veins, mid green, abaxially matt, abaxially glossy, petiole 1–4.2 cm long, slender, ± terete, glabrous to pubescent. Staminate inflorescences terminal, 3–9 in lax cluster, 3–4 cm, to 19 cm at anthesis in spring; peduncle 5–6.5 mm long; bract c. 1.2 mm long, more or less ovate. Pistillate inflorescences in semi-erect racemes of (2–)3–5 per inflorescence held below males, 3–6 mm, peduncle 20 mm, styles 2, linear stigmas red, protogynous. Fruit ovate-elliptic, 10–35 × 8–12 mm, often rather mis-shapen, woody scales broadly ovate to suborbiculate, 5 lobes ± equal in size, 5–6 mm, green to dark brown. Seed 1.5–4 mm long, wings narrow and leathery. Flowers September to October, cones maturing the following season. (Nasir 2022; T. Baxter, pers. obs.).

Distribution  AfghanistanIndia Himachal Pradesh, Jammu-Kashmir, Uttaranchal Nepal West Pakistan

Habitat In temperate parts of the Himalayas at low elevations (1000–3000 m asl), on river banks and roadsides including as pure stands.

USDA Hardiness Zone 8b-9a

RHS Hardiness Rating H4

Conservation status Least concern (LC)

Alnus nitida is a widely distributed and abundant species across the western part of the Himalayas; it is occasionally dominant along rivers and in other open habitats where it grows into a large and stately tree to 30 m tall. It is most frequent at middle altitudes but does also occur in lowland plains and at high altitude, especially towards the eastern limit of its range in Nepal. Its area of distribution experiences monsoon rains throughout the summer, but these regions tend to be drier than those where A. nepalensis may be found (Rana et al. 2018). Throughout its range it is an immensely useful species, primarily used as fuelwood, for construction, and for furniture making on account of its soft, even-grained timber. It has a range of ethnobotanical and medicinal uses including: a decoction from the bark is applied to treat swelling and pain; the bark is used in tanning; the treatment of diarrhoea, fever, haemorrhages and burns; and potentially for antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and hepatoprotective activities (Khan et al. 2022).

Alnus nitida flowers in autumn, along with those species traditionally placed within Subgenus Clethropsis (A. maritima, A. nepalensis and A. formosana). From its molecular characteristics it should be placed somewhere between species from eastern Europe and the Caucasus (A. orientalis, A. subcordata) and those occurring further east, especially A. nepalensis (Ren, Xiang & Chen 2010). Morphologically too, it is somewhat intermediate between these groups, with large leaves with craspedodromous venation (veins reaching the leaf edges), pistillate catkins held in racemes, and ovate cones, two to three times longer than broad. Chen & Li (2004) separate A. nepalensis from the other Clethropsis, and place the other three taxa together. A. nepalensis is certainly very distinct and is the only species to have large leaves with eucamptodromous venation that are hairy abaxially, with male and female inflorescences in panicles. A. nitida is also large-leaved with craspedodromous venation but has pistillate inflorescences in racemes of 1–4 catkins, and staminate inflorescences of 3–5 in a lax cluster. A. maritima is a shrubby species with cladodromous to craspedodromous venation, and its usually solitary cones are borne from the leaf axils. A. formosana is distinguished in having smaller leaves (5–13 × 3–5 cm) with the base cordate to truncate, craspedodromous venation, and bears 1–3 cones in leaf axils or racemose clusters. Like many other alders A. nitida is genetically and morphologically variable across its range (Khan et al. 2022)

In cultivation Alnus nitida grows into a large upright tree of rather lax habit that can be spectacular in autumn when in full flower. It grows best in wet soils with rain through the late summer months, including pond and stream edges or on clay. It was first introduced to Kew in 1882 through seed sent by R.E. Ellis (Bean 1981). The trees then raised succeeded well but eventually died of bacterial decay. West Himalayan Alder is still relatively uncommon in cultivation, with plants scattered throughout Britain and Europe; it is rare in North America. Provenance is likely an important factor and this should be tested more widely, especially as it is considerably more desiccation tolerant and winter hardy than both A. nepalensis and many origins of A. formosana. Plants from the centre of its range from Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand, India were donated by Kenneth Ashburner to Ness and have grown well on both clay and dry loam in partial shade. The biggest in cultivation in the UK is an 18 m tree at Margery Hall Pig Farm, Surrey; others grow at Endsleigh in Devon and at Howick Hall, Northumberland (Tree Register 2021).