Alnus glutinosa (European alder)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Impact Summary
- Environmental Impact
- Impact: Biodiversity
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Wood Products
- Prevention and Control
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Alnus glutinosa (L.) Gaertn.
Preferred Common Name
- European alder
Other Scientific Names
- Alnus barbata C. A. Mey.
- Alnus glutinosa subsp. barbata (C. A. Mey.) Yalt.
- Alnus glutinosa var. barbata (C. A. Mey.) Ledeb.
- Alnus glutinosa var. floribunda
- Betula alnus var. glutinosa L.
- Betula glutinosa (L.) Lam.
International Common Names
- English: black alder
- Spanish: aliso comun; aliso negro
- French: aulne commun; aulne glutineux; aulne noir; aune glutineux; aune glutineux; verne
- Russian: ol'kha chërnaya
- Portuguese: amieiro
Local Common Names
- Czechoslovakia (former): olse lepkavá
- Germany: Schwarz- Erle
- Italy: alno nero; ontano nero
- Netherlands: zwarte Els
- Poland: olsza czarna
- Sweden: slibbal
- UK: common alder
- USA: European alder
- ALUGL (Alnus glutinosa)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page A. glutinosa is a moderate to serious invasive species of wet sites in parts of North America, Australia and New Zealand. It has been widely introduced as an ornamental and for soil stabilization and continues to be promoted even in countries where it is known to be invasive. It is able to fix nitrogen and so colonize infertile soils, and seed can travel long distances along water courses. It is a category 1 invasive species in southern Ontario, Canada.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Fagales
- Family: Betulaceae
- Genus: Alnus
- Species: Alnus glutinosa
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page The taxonomy of the genus Alnus was the subject of several studies (e.g. Winkler, 1904; Schneider, 1916; Crepanov, 1955; Murai, 1964, 1968) which have been reviewed by Boratynski (1980). The last systematic elaboration (Murai, 1964) is based on the morphological studies of flowers, female strobiles and fruits. It divides the genus into two subgenera: Alnaster Spach (with two sections) and Gymnothyrsus (Spach) Regel (with five sections). Alnus glutinosa belongs to the section Glutinosae Murai of the subgenus Gymnothyrsus.
A. glutinosa is a relatively variable species. Populations in Turkey and adjacent areas have been divided by Yaltirik (1967) into three subspecies: subsp. glutinosa (grows within the whole species' distribution area); subsp. barbata (C.A. Mey) Yalt. (in northeastern Turkey, Caucasus and northern Iran); and subsp. antitaurica Yalt. (only in northern Anatolia and in the southern part of Middle Taurus). For the purposes of this data sheet, subsp. antitaurica is not accepted as a separate subspecies.
Intermediate specimens occur as a result of hybridization with the related Alnus incana. The individuals with young twigs and leaves pubescent (at least on veins), obtuse to shortly acuminate, have been classified as Alnus glutinosa x A. incana (= A.x pubescens) (Ball, 1964). They are not rare, especially where both parental species grow together (naturally in submontane regions and elsewhere in plantations). Hybrids with A. cordata (A. x elliptica) and, with A. rugosa (A. x silesiaca) are also known. Hybridization and the genetics of Alnus species are discussed by Mejnartowicz (1980).
DescriptionTop of page A. glutinosa is usually a medium-sized tree, up to 30-35 m tall (occasionally up to 40 m), with a pyramidal or narrowly oval, sparse crown, the base of which is low (if the specimen grows in isolation), though in forests most individuals have straight stems with an umbrella-shaped crown. It rarely grows as a shrub, unless in extreme habitats or if the original stem has been cut at the base. The stem rarely achieves a dbh of over 50 cm but may grow up to 80-100 cm dbh in exceptional cases. The root system is usually not deep and can sometimes be very shallow when the ground water level is high, and roots bear nodules with bacteria (Schinzia mollis) that assimilate atmospheric nitrogen. In boggy conditions the roots are differentiated into horizontal ones with nodules, and stronger almost vertical roots which grow deeper into the soil and lift the tree up, forming characteristic mounds (Piotrowska, 1960) and contain aerenchymatic tissue (McVean, 1956b). The bark of young trees is dark brown and rather smooth, becoming almost black with linear crevices. Leaves alternate, simple, oval or transversely ovate, usually with a retuse apex; margins doubly serrate; dark green above and lighter green below; 4-11 (-14) cm long and 3.5-11 cm broad. Young leaves are sticky to the touch. The species in monoecious, with male catkins 8-12 (-16) cm long, reddish or brownish (with red anthers), loose, protruding from a 7 mm long peduncle; female catkins 3.5 mm long, reddish or brownish, clustered in groups of 3-5, each on a peduncle. Fruits are small, winged seeds grouped in cone-like green strobiles, becoming dark brown or black in late autumn.
Plant TypeTop of page Broadleaved
DistributionTop of page This review of the natural distribution of A. glutinosa is based mainly Boratynski (1980), also drawing from Hegi (1957), Meusel et al. (1965) and Ball (1964). The natural distribution of A. glutinosa ranges from ca. 63°N (although there are isolated populations up to about 66°N) in Scandinavia, to ca. 36°N in North Africa (Algeria). It is present in almost the whole of Europe (except southwest Spain, northern Scandinavia and northwest Russia). The species also grows spontaneously in the Atlas Mountains (Algeria and Morocco) and in some places in northern Turkey, Georgia and on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea (northern Iran). The eastern limit of the species' continuous range is situated in the vicinity of the border between Russia and Kazakhstan (where some isolated localities have been found up to ca. 76°E).
The natural distribution of three subspecies distinguished by Yaltirik (1967) is: subsp. glutinosa - widely distributed over the entire native range (Boratynski, 1980); subsp. barbata - only in northeastern Turkey, the Caucasus and northern Iran (Yaltirik, 1967; Browicz, 1978; Boratynski, 1980); and subsp. antitaurica - Turkey, only in northern Anatolia and southern Middle Taurus (Yaltirik, 1967). Note that for the purposes of this data sheet, subsp. antitaurica is not accepted as a separate subspecies.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Planted||Reference||Notes|
|Georgia (Republic of)||Present||Native||Yaltirik, 1967; Boratynski, 1980|
|Iran||Present||Native||Yaltirik, 1967; Boratynski, 1980|
|Korea, Republic of||Present||Introduced||Planted|
|Turkey||Present||Native||Planted, Natural||Yaltirik, 1967|
|-Newfoundland and Labrador||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|-New Jersey||Present||Introduced||Invasive||USDA-NRCS, 2004|
|-New York||Present||Introduced||Invasive||USDA-NRCS, 2004|
|Czech Republic||Present||Native||Planted, Natural|
|Finland||Present||Native||Planted, Natural||Boratynski, 1980|
|Norway||Present||Native||Planted, Natural||Boratynski, 1980|
|Poland||Present||Native||Boratynski, 1980; Tomialojc et al., 1984; Czuraj, 1990|
|Romania||Present||Native||Planted, Natural||Savulescu, 1952|
|Russian Federation||Present||Native||Planted, Natural|
|-Central Russia||Present||Native||Planted, Natural|
|-Northern Russia||Present||Native||Planted, Natural|
|-Southern Russia||Present||Native||Yaltirik, 1967; Boratynski, 1980|
|-Western Siberia||Present||Native||Planted, Natural|
|Sweden||Present||Native||Planted, Natural||Boratynski, 1980|
|UK||Present||Native||McVean, 1953; Duke, 1983; Savill, 1991|
|-New South Wales||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Anon, 2003|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page A. glutinosa has been introduced to the USA, Canada, India, Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The species became naturalized in New Zealand in 1916 (Owen, 1996). It has spread widely in the USA, now being present in 16 states (USDA-NRCS, 2004). A. glutinosa, as a pioneer species with an ability to fix nitrogen, is suitable for planting on various moist and infertile soils and is widely used in land reclamation or revegetation and it is probable that A. glutinosa has already been or will soon be planted in other regions of the world.
Risk of IntroductionTop of page A. glutinosa, as a pioneer species with an ability to fix nitrogen, is suitable for planting on various moist and infertile soils and is widely used in land reclamation or revegetation. It is probable that A. glutinosa has already been or will soon be planted in other regions of the world.
HabitatTop of page A. glutinosa establishes readily in wetlands and riparian habitats and forms pure stands or thickets in disturbed wetland sites (Gilman and Watson, 1993). A. glutinosa is a structurally dominant tree in the following Central-European natural plant communities: (1) lowland alder boggy forest, Carici elongatae-Alnetum s.l., including Ribo nigri-Alnetum Sol-Górn. (see Solinska-Gornicka, 1987a, b); (2) Sphagno squarrosi-Alnetum Sol-Górn. (see Solinska-Gornicka, 1987a, b); and (3) lowland alder forest, Fraxino-Alnetum = Circaeo-Alnetum, (see Oberdorfer, 1953; Matuszkiewicz, 1976). The species also grows frequently in the following natural forest communities of Poland: riverside floodplain willow forest Salicetum albo-fragilis, elm riparian forest Ficario-Ulmetum and submontane ash forest Carici remotae-Fraxinetum (see Matuszkiewicz and Matuszkiewicz, 1996).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-natural||Riverbanks||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Wetlands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Biology and EcologyTop of page Genetics
A. glutinosa is relatively variable species and it often hybridizes with other alders. The genetics of A. glutinosa and chromosome numbers for the genus are discussed by Mejnartowicz (1980). A. glutinosa has been classified as tetraploid (2n=28), hexaploid (2n=42) and octoploid (2n=56). The study also reviewed several artificial crossings between Alnus species, with particular attention being paid to hybrids of A. glutinosa. It has been found that the initial growth (up to an age of 30-35 years) of natural hybrids between A. glutinosa and A. incana was greater than either of the parent species (Fer and Sedivy, 1963) but the differences in growth rates diminish with age. Intraspecific variation of A. glutinosa is also discussed by Mejnartowicz (1980), assessing provenances differences in respect to resistance to pests and pathogens, height and diameter growth and their phenology. Several studies on phenotypic variation showed that some populations of A. glutinosa can be classified as ecotypes, though clinal variation is also present. According to Mejnartowicz (1980), the majority of Alnus populations are characterized by early leaf development; there may be a link between the start of leaf development and wood quality and it may be possible to improve wood quality by selecting trees which have a late leaf flushing.
Physiology and Phenology
The timing of the events described here refer to the centre of A. glutinosa native range in Poland. The timing will clearly differ in other parts of its distribution, earlier in the southern and western parts of its range and later in the northern and eastern parts of its range. A. glutinosa flowers at the beginning of spring (March and April), fruits ripen in early autumn (September), leaves flush is at the end of April (beginning of May) and they fall in October and November (Boratynski, 1980; Pancer-Kotejowa and Zarzycki, 1980). In the UK, A. glutinosa starts to flower in February when the temperature reaches 10-13°C (McVean, 1953). A. glutinosa is a light-demanding species and seedlings do not usually survive in the shade of mature trees (Pancer-Kotejowa and Zarzycki, 1980). Trees may live up to ca. 100 years (Jaworski, 1995), but sometimes on poor sites it may only live for 20-25 years (Savill, 1991).
The presence of symbiotic bacteria in the root nodules (Akkermans, 1978; Dijk, 1978) enables A. glutinosa to grow on soils that are poor in nitrogen. However, their effectiveness of assimilation of atmospheric nitrogen is limited in anaerobic conditions (Pancer-Kotejowa and Zarzycki, 1980). The root system of specimens growing on flooded soils is differentiated into horizontal roots (with nodules) and the stronger, almost vertical ones that grow deeper and lift the tree up. As a result, a loose mound with space inside is formed under the stem (Piotrowska, 1960). The air conditions in the roots are also improved by aerenchymatic tissue inside roots which have developed under water (McVean, 1956b).
The species is monoecious. Fruits are small, winged seeds, grouped in cone-like green strobiles, becoming dark brown or black in late autumn. Reproduction is mainly by seed, but coppices readily after felling. The seeds are orthodox.
A. glutinosa grows naturally in various temperate localities with the climate ranging from seasonally cold to warm. Climate data are based on the natural distribution and relevant climatic information (Walter and Lieth, 1960). According to Jurkevic et al. (1968), A. glutinosa grows well where there is a mean annual temperature from 4.0 to 7.5°C, and a mean annual rainfall from 400 to 700 mm. If climatic data from the whole natural range of the species is taken into account, the ecological amplitude of A. glutinosa appears much broader. The estimated mean annual temperature range is 1-18°C and mean annual rainfall range 400-1300 mm. A. glutinosa is highly resistant to seasonal frost as it grows in areas where the temperatures drop to ca. -40°C, with the absolute minimum being -49°C, though extremely cold temperatures result in lower annual growth (Jurkevic et al., 1968), and the resistance of the species to frost varies from season to season (Ellenberg, 1978). A. glutinosa is, however, susceptible to drought (Fabijanowski and Zarzycki, 1961).
A. glutinosa grows naturally mainly on histosols and sometimes on gleysols or fluvisols (Pancer-Kotejowa and Zarzycki, 1980; see also FAO, 1990). The common feature of all these soils is usually moderate or high moisture levels. The species is very resistant to flooding and waterlogging. The soil texture does not seem to be particularly important since A. glutinosa is able to grow on peat and eutrophic bogs, as well as on light clays, coarse sands and gravels (Pancer-Kotejowa and Zarzycki, 1980; Savill, 1991), but it will not grow well in dry conditions (Fabijanowski and Zarzycki, 1961). A. glutinosa is not specific to soil reaction but does avoid extremely acid soils. Lack of A. glutinosa on poor raised peatbogs may also be explained by the seedlings' demand for available soil phosphorus (Fabijanowski and Zarzycki, 1961). Observations from the UK coast show that A. glutinosa is able to grow on slightly saline soils (McVean, 1953), although in other regions this has not been confirmed (Bernatzky, 1978). A. glutinosa grows better on flat areas or even in hollows, and it is one of the most suited species for planting on the banks of the lowland rivers, streams, along ditches, lakes and ponds.
The altitudinal distribution ranges from sea level (sometimes even below, in depressions) up to high altitude sites, especially in the mountains located in the south of its range. The maximum altitude for the natural occurrence of A. glutinosa differs in various mountains: up to 1800 m altitude in the Alps (Hegi, 1957), 1500 m in Macedonia (Jovanovic, 1970), 1300 m in the Carpathians (Savulescu, 1952; Blattny and Stastny, 1959) and subsp. barbata has been observed growing at up to 2000 m (Sokolov and Stratonovic, 1951; Kolakovski, 1961). In Central Europe, A. glutinosa can be regarded as a typical lowland species since it occurs at higher altitude sites only sporadically, being replaced at higher altitudes by Alnus incana (Boratynski, 1980).
They are very important habitats for the survival of many rare plants and animals. For example, investigations in the Bialowieza Forest (Poland) have shown that alder carrs (Fraxino-Alnetum = Circaeo-Alnetum) had a diversity of bird fauna three times greater than that of mixed stands and coniferous stands (Tomialojc et al., 1984). The nodulated root system of A. glutinosa contains symbiotic bacteria (Schinzia mollis) which assimilate nitrogen from the atmosphere which explains the tree's wide tolerance of infertile soils.
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Absolute minimum temperature (ºC)||-50|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||1||18|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||15||25|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||-30||8|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||0||4||number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall|
|Mean annual rainfall||400||1300||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page Bimodal
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- seasonally waterlogged
Special soil tolerances
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page There are many pathogens, usually fungi, which have been observed on A. glutinosa, most of which are of little importance (see Siwecki, 1980;). Inonotus radiatus may be regarded as the most important pathogen, causing mass-dieback in secondary forests in Poland. The list of potential pests of A. glutinosa is very long (Szmidt, 1980) and includes birds, mammals and many invertebrates (especially insects) but the majority of them are not economically important. A. glutinosa is commonly browsed by deer in the summer (Szmidt, 1975). Examples of insects feeding on A. glutinosa foliage are Agelastica alni and Melasoma aenea which are both closely connected with alder and sometimes may considerably reduce the growth of young trees or even cause their death (Szmidt, 1980). There are numerous leaf-mining caterpillars which feed on the foliage (Michalska and Nowak, 1965), but it is not usually necessary to undertake control measures against them. There are also many bark or wood borers; the most important being Cryptorrhynchus lapathii, the main cause of mortality in young A. glutinosa, the secondary reason being an invasion by fungi and consequently frost, in the former Czechoslovakia (Urosevic, 1963) and in Austria (Cech, 1998). The mite Eriophyes laevis is a common cause of galls on leaves; however, the galls do not have a noticeable negative effect on growth.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page The seeds float well, travelling many kilometres when rivers are flowing rapidly (Anon, 2003), and also eaten by various wildlife (Gilman and Watson, 1993). The species has been introduced widely as an ornamental and for soil stabilization, and its use is still promoted in some countries where it is known to be potentially invasive.
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
Environmental ImpactTop of page A. glutinosa has a potential impact on water courses equivalent to that of willows (Salix spp.), such as its effects on water flow, de-oxygenation of water, shading out other species and degrading habitats
Impact: BiodiversityTop of page A. glutinosa stands are very important habitats for the survival of many rare plants and animals. Cones open gradually and release the seed throughout the winter, and are therefore a reliable source of food. These positive impacts on biodiversity should be considered in contrast with any negative effects observed from A. glutinosa invasion.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Highly mobile locally
- Has high reproductive potential
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
UsesTop of page Its rapid growth, tolerance of acid soils, and nitrogen-fixing ability, mean that A. glutinosa is a desirable species for shelterbelts, mine-spoil rehabilitation, biomass production and landscaping (Funk, 1990).
A. glutinosa wood uses and technical properties are detailed by Surminski (1980), having a uniform structure and used for the production of plywood, and in turnery. Generally however, the wood of A. glutinosa is considered to be of low quality. The wood of trees grown from seedlings is of better quality than that grown from coppice shoots. According to Bouvarel (1984), the wood is easily worked and thus it is used for the production of furniture, banisters, piles, toys, coat, racks, boxes and shoes. Duke (1983) adds that due to its elasticity, softness and relative ligthness, it is suitable for cigar boxes, pumps, carvings, slippers and moulds for glass manufacture. A. glutinosa wood is very durable in water, equal to that of oak (Quercus spp.), thus it has, for a long time been used for hydraulic works. According to Surminski (1980), the wood is often used as a raw material for wood pulp and semichemical pulp for cardboard, chipboard and fibreboard production. The wood of A. glutinosa can also be impregnated and can be modified with polystyrene for a variety of other uses. It is also often used by farmers as a fuel.
The leaves and bark of A. glutinosa have been used in folk medicine treatments for cancer (Hartwell, 1967). In Poland, the leaves are still used for curing food, especially freshwater fish. The bark is used for tanning leather (Duke, 1983).
Uses ListTop of page
- Erosion control or dune stabilization
- Shade and shelter
- Soil improvement
Human food and beverage
- Honey/honey flora
- Carved material
- Miscellaneous materials
- Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
Wood ProductsTop of page
- Building poles
- Roundwood structures
Sawn or hewn building timbers
- Carpentry/joinery (exterior/interior)
- Engineering structures
- For light construction
- Hydraulic works
- Improved wood
- Industrial and domestic woodware
- Musical instruments
- Tool handles
Prevention and ControlTop of page Girdling of A. glutinosa trees is effective but time consuming, i.e. removing bark and phloem in a 10 cm wide layer from around the trunk (Royal Botanical Gardens Canada, 2003). Cutting followed by glyphosate application has proven effective in Canada and Australia (Anon, 2003; Royal Botanical Gardens Canada, 2003).
ReferencesTop of page
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