Seedling nurseries: growing trees for healthy and productive forests: the alder

Alders are beautiful and functional plants. They are fast growing and can easily be trained to a tree-like form by removing lower branches. Rapid growth in open habitats, wide tolerance to soil types, and potential for soil conditioning make tag alder useful in rehabilitation of disturbed sites, including old mines.

Just the Facts: tag alder or speckled alder (Alnus incana)

Growth: Tag alder grows mostly as a shrub but can grow as a small tree if the lower branches are trimmed off as it is growing. The bark is gray, reddish, or brown, thin and smooth. Leaves are elliptic to ovate, 4-11 cm long, 3-8 cm wide, doubly and irregularly toothed, dull dark green above.  Male and female flowers are in catkins, borne separately, but on the same tree. The seed catkins are cone-like, generally remaining intact after release of fruits in spring.

Range: The range of tag alder in North America reaches into the Lake States and Northeast and as far south (at higher elevations) as Iowa, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia.

Wildlife Uses: Tag alder thickets provide cover for moose, white-tailed deer, rabbits, and others. Moose, muskrats, beavers, and rabbits browse the twigs and foliage. Songbirds, including redpolls, goldfinches, woodcock, and grouse eat the seeds, buds, and catkins. Beavers build dams and lodges with tag alder. Tree Trivia: Tag alder’s acceptance of a wide variety of soil types makes it a good choice for disturbed site rehabilitation. This is a valuable species to plant along stream banks for erosion control. Chippewa Indians mixed alder root scraping with grounded up bumblebee and fed the mixture to women whom were having difficulty during childbirth.

Seedlings are available from early fall to early spring from the Division of Forestry’s nurseries. Orders are shipped at your request for planting projects during the dormant period throughout the winter.  To obtain an order form, visit or call the Division of Forestry at 1-800-866-0555.

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