Winter Trees: Speckled Alder

Spring is coming fast but there are still a couple of weeks before the tree buds open.  This tree, however, will bloom very soon so we’ll need to identify it now.

Speckled Alder (Alnus incana) is a shrub-like tree in the birch family that grows in wet places at streams, lakes and wetlands.  In winter its branches are distinctive because they carry two kinds of buds with last year’s fruit.

The inch-long male catkins are reddish in winter.  They begin to turn yellow in March just before they bloom into long, yellow pollen flowers.

The female flower buds are small and drooping just ahead of the catkins on the branch.  They look like tiny unopened versions of the seed-bearing cones they’ll become.

The cones are present, too.  Half an inch long they’re last year’s fruit.  All three are visible in the photo above.  The male and female flowers are shown below.


Speckled Alder gets its name from the whitish lenticels that speckle its dark bark.  With all these points of interest we hardly notice the small reddish leaf buds.

As you explore stream banks and lake sides for signs of spring, keep an eye out for Speckled Alder.

Someone* told me it carries the past (cones), present (male catkins) and future (female buds) on each branch.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)


(*) Was it Esther Allen who said this tree is Past, Present and Future?


6 thoughts on “Winter Trees: Speckled Alder

  1. Marvellous, nice bark and photos-a tree for me to avoid, lol as I am allergic but always hanging around wetlands, swamps and the like-the pussy willows are now out, so nice and fluffy!

  2. Our nature is majestic: the last photo is so simple and beautiful, while it’s got such an curious explanation. Loved it!

    1. Greg Z, I don’t know. Wait a couple of weeks to see in case the other one wakes up.

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