Alnus incana : Gray Alder


Scientific Name:

Kingdom: Plantae


Class: Dicoteldonae (two seed-leaves)

Family: Betulaceae (Birch Family)

Genera: Alnus (Alders) (Ancient Latin name for Alder. Origin and meaning unknown.)

Species: incana (Lat. incana=quite gray.)

Synonym(s): A.tunuifolia, A.rugosa

English Name(s):

Gray Alder, River Alder, Speckled Alder, Hoary Alder

First Nation Names:

K'oh (Red Willow)



  • Plants are monoecious(bi-sexual).
  • Medium to large shrub.
  • Up to 5 meters tall.


  • Alternate, simple (not compound, or lobed).
  • Venation pinnate with secondary viens paired.
  • 2.5-9cm long by 1.5-6.5cm wide.
  • Margins double-serrulate (twice serrated).

Reproductive Parts:

  • Flowers imperfect (single gendered) in catkins.
  • Male flowers with 4 stamens.
  • Catkins on short peduncles (stalks).
  • Female catkins 9-15mm long by 8-10mm wide. 3-9 per cluster.


  • Fruit are numerous small single seeded nutlets.
  • Fruiting catkins maturing hard, woody, cone-like and persistent (not falling off).
  • Nutlets wingless, merely margined.

Not to Be Confused With:

  • A.crispa which can be distinguished by its long peduncled (stalked) catkins and its serrulate (once serrated) leaves.



  • Caution: Alnus pollen may cause hay fever, or bronchial asthma in some sesitive folk.
  • Alders have nodules on thier roots that contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria. When an alder rots, this nitrogen is added to the soil.
  • These plants are wind pollenated. Thier pollen grains are so small (0.03mm) they can float long distances on a slight breeze.

Life Cycle:

Seasonal Cycle:

  • Catkins appear before the leaves.
  • leaves deciduous.
  • Cones (fruiting catkins) reach maturity in August.


Animal Uses:

  • The pollen is used by bees in spring for brood rearing.
  • Bark is chewed by hares and beavers.
  • In winter nutlets eaten by many song birds.
  • Their buds and twigs make up an important part of the food of ptarmigan and grouse.


  • Inducate presence of water.
  • Common on riverbanks and lakeshores.




  • Wood burns very hot.
  • Wood is soft and fine grained, stains well, developes a nice red tinge with age, used for carving,


  • An infusion of the bark is used as a gargle fortreating sore throat, poor circulation, diarrhea and eye problems.
  • Bark (outer & inner) is astringent and powerfully bitter.
  • Bark 3.5g boiled in 250ml vinegar is a good remedy for lice. This also makes an excellent mouth wash when diluted with equal parts water.
  • Bark is dried and aged for several weeks, then powdered. 30ml powdered bark is mixed with 250ml brown apple cider and 5ml is taken 3 times a day to relieve constipation.
  • Leaves applied directly to bare feet in shoes helps with blisters, burning and aching.
  • Leaves are used to relieve inflammation.
  • Leaves in decoction have been used to soak sore feet.


  • Buds can be eaten.
  • Inner-bark can be dried and ground into flour, or chewed as a survival food.

Traditional Gwich'in:



    • Bark boiled makes a soluting used to dye hides, skins, snowshoe frames, and fish nets. Hides were soaked for about a day to dye them red.
    • Inner bark was made into a pulp and rolled up in a wolverine or beaver skin to make it soft.
    • Traditionally used just Alder wood for smoking fish.



      • Buds and green cones can be chewed and the juice swallowed. This is good juice and good for colds.

      Traditional Other:


      • Some Dena'ina say it should not be used for cooking meat because a red juice which looks like blood bubles out of it when it is burned.
      • In Europe was considered a spirit-haunted tree, and when cut it may begin to , bleed, weep or even speak.


      • Inner bark can be boiled to produce an orange dye on hides and a yellow dye on fabric.
      • Wood was used in Europe for piles and posts in marshy areas and water troughs, as it was said to endure for long periods under water.
      • Green wood with bark removed, is good for smoking meats and fish. It is said to impart a pleasent flavour to the food.


      • Bark decoctions were used to relieve cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, to aid circulation, sooth stomach ache, ease childbirth, stop bleeding, and also to treat eye problems.
      • Leaves were moistened with warm milk and used as a poultice to relieve external swellings and inflammation or somtetimes used alone.
      • Twig decoctions were drunk as a remedy for impure blood.



        Leaf double-serrulate (twice serrated) margin

        Cones (fruiting catkins) on short pedicel (stalk).

        Catkins early spring.

        Illustration from: Illustrated Flora of BC

        Range Maps

        World Range: North American; MB to BC and AK, south to CA and NM.

        Prov/State Abrev. List

        In Yukon: Common northward to the Porcupine River.

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