|Italian Alder foliage and
immature male catkins
|Subgenus:||Alnus subg. Alnus|
Alnus cordata (Italian alder) is a tree or shrub species belonging to the family of Betulaceae and native to southern Apennine Mountains (Campania, Basilicata and Calabria, mainly on western mountain sides) and north-eastern mountains of Corsica. It has been introduced in Sicily and Sardinia and more recently in Central-North Italy, other European countries (France, Belgium, Spain, Azores, United Kingdom) and extra-European countries (Chile, New Zealand), where it has become naturalised.
It is a medium-sized tree growing up to 25 m tall (exceptionally to 28 m), with a trunk up to 70–100 cm diameter. The leaves are deciduous but with a very long season in leaf, from April to December in the Northern Hemisphere; they are alternate, cordate (heart-shaped), rich glossy green, 5–12 cm long, with a finely serrated margin.
The slender cylindrical male catkins are pendulous, reddish and up to 10 cm long; pollination is in early spring, before the leaves emerge. The female catkins are ovoid, when mature in autumn 2–3 cm long and 1.5–2 cm broad, dark green to brown, hard, woody, and superficially similar to some conifer cones. The small winged seeds disperse through the winter, leaving the old woody, blackish 'cones' on the tree for up to a year after.
Like other alders, it is able to improve soil fertility through symbiotic nitrogen fixation with the bacteria Actinomyces alni (Frankia alni). It thrives on much drier soils than most other alders, and grows rapidly even under very unfavourable circumstances, which renders it extremely valuable for landscape planting on difficult sites such as mining spoil heaps and heavily compacted urban sites. It is commonly grown as a windbreak.
The tree also produces valuable reddish-orange wood. It breaks down rapidly when exposed to air, but is durable when immersed in water. The timber is used for turning and carving, for moulding, furniture, panelling and plywood.
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