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close this bookNitrogen Fixing Trees Highlights (Winrock, 1990-1997, 100 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcacia koa - Hawaii's most valued native tree
View the documentAcacia leucophloea - shade and fodder for livestock in arid environments
View the documentAlnus acuminata: valuable timber tree for tropical highlands
View the documentAlbizia saman: pasture improvement, shade, timber and more
View the documentCasuarina junghuhniana: a highly adaptable tropical casuarina
View the documentEnterolobium cyclocarpum: the ear pod tree for fasture, fodder and wood
View the documentErythrina variegata: more than a pretty tree
View the documentInga edulis: a tree for acid soils in the humid tropics
View the documentPithecellobium dulce - sweet and thorny
View the documentPterocarpus indicus - the majestic n-fixing tree
View the documentRobinia pseudoacacia: temperate legume tree with worldwide potential
View the documentAcacia nilotica - pioneer for dry lands
View the documentAcacia saligna - for dryland fodder and soil stabilization
View the documentAcacia senegal: gum tree with promise for agroforestry
View the documentAcacia seyal - multipurpose tree of the Sahara desert
View the documentAcacia tortilis: fodder tree for desert sands
View the documentAlnus nepalensis: a multipurpose tree for the tropical highlands
View the documentCasuarina equisetifolia: an old-timer with a new future
View the documentCasuarina glauca: a hardy tree with many attributes
View the documentChamaecytisus palmensis: hardy, productive fodder shrub
View the documentDalbergia latifolia: the high-valued Indian rosewood
View the documentDalbergia melanoxylon: valuable wood from a neglected tree
View the documentErythrina edulis: multipurpose tree for the tropical highlands
View the documentErythrina sandwicensis - unique Hawaiian NFT
View the documentHippophaƫ rhamnoides: an NFT valued for centuries
View the documentLeucaena diversifolia - fast growing highland NFT species
View the documentLeucaena: an important multipurpose tree
View the documentOlneya tesota - a potential food crop for hot arid zones
View the documentHoney mesquite: a multipurpose tree for arid lands
View the documentPongamia pinnata - a nitrogen fixing tree for oilseed
View the documentGuazuma ulmifolia: widely adapted tree for fodder and moreli
View the documentFaidherbia albida - inverted phenology supports dryzone agroforestry
View the documentGleditsia triacanthos - honeylocust, widely adapted temperate zone fodder tree
View the documentAndira inermis: more than a beautiful ornamental tree
View the documentErythrina poeppigiana: shade tree gains new perspectives
View the documentAlbizia procera - white siris for reforestation and agroforestry
View the documentAlbizia odoratissima - tea shade tree
View the documentAdenanthera pavonina: an underutlized tree of the humid tropics
View the documentAcacia mangium: an important multipurpose tree for the tropic lowlands
View the documentAcacia auiculiformis - a multipurpose tropical wattle
View the documentPentaclethra microphylla: a multipurpose tree from Africa lwith potential for agroforestry in the tropics
View the documentMyroxylon balsam and much more
View the documentOugeinia dalbergioides: a multipurpose tree for sub-tropical and tropical mountain regions
View the documentProsopis alba and prosopis chilensis: subtropical semiarid fuel and fodder trees
View the documentSesbania sesban: widely distributed multipurpose NFT
View the documentProsopis cineraria: a multipurpose tree for arid areas
View the documentJuliflorae acacias: new food source for the sahel
View the documentSesbania grandiflora: NFT for beauty, food, fodder and soil improvement
View the documentAcacia aneura - a desert fodder tree
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Alnus acuminata: valuable timber tree for tropical highlands

Alnus acuminata is a fast-growing species valued for its wood, watershed protection and soil improvement. Native from Mexico to Northern Argentina, it is known as alive (Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru); aile, ilite (Mexico); ramr lambr(Guatemala, Costa Rica and Peru); jaosta Rica); palo de lama (Guatemala) and; cerezo and chequiro (Colombia). Easily propagated from seed or by natural regeneration, A. acuminata is a popular agroforestry species in its native range. It has been successfully introduced into southern Chile and southern New Zealand.


Alnus acuminata ssp. arguta (Schlectendal) Furlow (Betulaceae) grows to 30 m in height and to 50 cm in diameter (after 30 years) in natural conditions. Maximum age may be 60 years (L Fournier,, personal communication). The leaves are simple, alternate, elliptical, 6 to 15 cm long, 3 to 8 cm wide, border double dentate, deciduous or semideciduos. The upper leaf surface is dark green and the lower surface is pale, whitish to light green. The bark is light-gray or silvery with yellowish lenticels. Crown shape is open rounded to pyramidal. Male and female flowers occur in separate catkins on the same branch. Inflorescences are cone-like with lignified scales, dark brown when ripened, and bearing more than 100 fruits per cone. The fruit is a small membranous-winged samara, 2 to 3 mm long that contains one seed. Dispersal is mainly by the wind. Seeds ripen in February,, March and August in South America (NAS, 1980), and from September to January in Costa Rica (Rotas et al., 1991).

There is considerable confusion in the taxonomy of Alnus acuminata. Furlow (1977) reported the species as Alnus acuminata H B.K, but in his last revision (1979) he classified it as Alnus acuminata ssp. arguta. The species also has been described as Alnus jorullensis H.B.K. by Carlson and Dawson (1985). Holdridge (1951) concluded that if subspecies populations exist they apparently intergrade into each other and because of similarities in wood and silvicultural characteristics they may be considered as a single species, at least from a forestry viewpoint.

Distribution and ecology

Alnus acuminata is native to the American contient ranging from Mexico to Northern Argentina in elevations between 1,200 and 3,200 m.a.s.i. where annual rainfall is 1,000 to 3,000 mm or more. The species occurs where mean annual temperature ranges between 4° and 27°C; however it can withstand temperatures dipping briefly below 0°C (NAS, 1980).

Alnus acuminata is a fast-growing pioneer species that regenerates naturally in open, disturbed areas. It grows in moist soil environments' usually along the banks of streams, rivers, ponds, and swamps where it typically forms dense pure stands.

It also can be associated with wet flood plains, or moist mountain slopes, although it may be adapted to somewhat drier conditions. However, it is usual' restricted to zones with extra soil moisture such as cool, tropical highlands, and cool, high-ladtude regions with abundant rainfall where mist and cloud cover can be a source of fog-drip precipitation. In tropical highlands of Central and South America, clouds and mist are important in supporting Alnus acuminata and grass, when associated, through the dry season.

Alnus acuminata prefers deep, well-drained soils with high organic matter content. However, it is commonly found growing on shallow soils, such as landslides. Rojas et al. (1991) report that it will grow in soil with pH as low as 45.



Alnus acuminata wood is light brown-yellow to pink, odorless' and tasteless' without differences between the heartwood and the sapwood. Reports on specific gravity vary from 034 to 039 (Tuk, 1980) and 05 to 0.6 (NAS, 1980). The calorific value is 19,2501kJ/kg (CATIE, 1986). The wood dries easily and preserves well. It has even grain, seasons fairly well, and is easy to work and finish by hand or machine. Despite its light weight it is tough and strong, and is sometimes used for construction. Timber is also used for fuelwood, posts' poles, light lumber, boxes, broom handles, domestic implements, plywood cores, particle board, and musical instruments. A match company in Colombia evaluated more than 20 native species and found Alnus acuminata wood best suited for making stick matches (In". R. Arismendi, Personal Communication).


Farmers in Costa Rica have grown Alnus acuminata in pastures and as a shade tree for coffee crops for more than 90 years. Trees are regenerated naturally or planted from nursery stock at spacings of 8 to 14 m (about 100 trees/ha).

One benefit of including trees in cattle pastures is greater milk production-cows on pastures with Alnus acuminata produce more than cows on pastures without it (Budowski, 1983). Farmers in Costa Rica sometimes construct crude fences around individual seedlings to protect them from livestock-protection is needed until trees grow tall enough that livestock can not browse new growth.



Alnus acuminata is propagated by seeds (more than 2 million pure seeds/kg). Seeds are recalcitrant and must be planted quickly-viability decreases from 70% to 20% in a few months. Seed viability can be extended by storing seed in airtight containers at 5° Cviability is 50% and 31 % after 2 and 3 months, respectively (Rojas et al., 1991).

No seed pre-treatment is necessary. Rojas et al. (1991) recommend broadcasting seed in germination beds (15 to 20 g of seed per m² of bed) and covering them with a very thin layer of mixed soil and sand. The germination bed should be a 1:1:2 mixture of fine soil, sand and organic material. Seeds should be watered twice daily with a very fine mist to maintain soil humidity. Overwatering may cause damping-off. Germination starts 6 to 7 days after sowing and is complete within 15 days. The most vigorous seedlings should be transplanted to pots or back plastic bags 20 days after germination. Seedlings may be planted out when they are 20 cm tall (in about four months). Bare-root seedlings and stump cuttings are possible alternatives to container-grawn seedlings. Seedlings do not compete well with weeds so frequent weeding is important (Rojas et al., 1991).


Alnus acuminata is grown in plantations mainly in Colombia and Costa Rica, but in other countries as well. In Colombia, an initial spacing of 2.6 x 2.6 m (1,480 trees/ha) is common (Sicco Smit, 1971). In Costa Rica, an initial spacing of 3 x 3 m is preferred. At least two thinnings are recommended, the first after the third year and the second after 10 to 15 years, leaving 250 to 350 trees per hectare. Trees are harvested in rotations of about 20 years. Average annual wood production is 15 to 20 m³ per hectare. According to Canet (1985), a stand of 30-year-old trees with a density of 35 trees/ha yielded 70 m³/ha of timber, 183 ton/ha of dry fuelwood, and 3.6 ton/ha of leaves and fine branches. Alnus acuminata resprouts vigorously from the stump after cutting.


Alnus acuminata, like other Alnus species, forms a symbiosis with actinomycetes of the genus Frankia. Rojas et al. (1991) report that nodules begin to grow on 13-day-old nursery seedlings. Estimates of nitrogen fixation for Alnus species vary widely between 62 kg/ha/yr for A. sinuata in Alaska and 125 kg/ha/yr for A. glutinosa, to 320 kg/halyr for A. rubra in Oregon (Carlson and Dawson, 1985). In a 2year-old A. acuminata plantation in the Colombian highlands (1200 trees/ha), Carlson and Dawson (1985) estimate an annual increase in soil nitrogen of 279 kg/ha. Acetylene reduction values for 120-day-old A. acuminata greenhouse seedlings inoculated with a crushed nodule suspension were between 32.5 and 86.4 µmol of ethylens produced per gram of nodule dry weight per hour (Russo and Berlyn, 1988).

Pests and diseases

Alnus acuminata is susceptible to attack by defoliators (Nodonota irazuensis and Nodonota cat parvula, Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae). A stem borer Scolytodes alni, (Coleoptera, Scolytidae) has been observed in Costa Rica during the dry season. Vertebrates such as Sciurus sp. (Rodentia, Sciuridae) may cause debarking and Sylvilagus brasiliensis (Lafomorpha, Leporidae) may destroy seedlings. Fungi such as Fusarium sp. and Trichoderma sp. may damage seeds; Colletotrichum sp. and Phomopsis sp. may affect leaves; and Rosellinia sp. may affect stems and roots in mature trees (CATIE, 1991).


Budowski, G. 1983. An attempt to quantify some current agroforestry practices in Costa Rica. In Huxley, P. A. ed. Plant Research in Agroforestry. Nairobi, Kenya, ICRAF. pp. 43-62.

Canet, G.C. 1985. Caracteristicas del sistema silvo-pastoril jalnus acuminata) con lecheria de altura en Costa Rica. In R. Salazar ed. Ticas de produccie len fincas pequenas. Actas de los simposios. CATIE, Turrialba, 2428 de junio, 1985. pp. 241-249.

Carlson, P.J. and J.O. Dawson. 1985. Soil nitrogen changes, early growth, and response to soil internal drainage of a plantation of Alnus jorullensis in the Colombian highlands. Turrialba 35(2):141-150.

CATIE 1986. Silvicultura d e especies promisorias para produccie len America Central. CATIE, Turrialba, Costa Rica. p. 51.

CATIE 1991. Plagas y enfermedades forestales en America Central: gude campo. CATIE, Turrialba, Costa Rica.185 p.

Furlow, J.J. 1977. Betulaceae. In Burger, W. Flora Costaricensis. Fieldiana: Botany 40:56-58.

Furlow, J.J. 1979. The systematics of the American species of Alnus (Betulaceae). Rhodora 81(825):1-121.

Holdridge, L.R. 1951. The alder, Alnus acuminata, as a farm timber tree in Costa Rica. Caribbean Forester 12(2):47-57.

National Academy of Sciences. 1980. Firewood crops: shrub and tree species for energy production. Vol. 1. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.

Rojas, F., G. Torres, E. Arn and I, Moreira. 1991. Jaadernos cientificos y tecnolos, especies forestales tropicales, No. 1. Instituto Tecnolo de Costa Rica, Cartago, Costa Rica. 9 p.

Russo, R.O. and G.P. Berlyn. 1989. The effect of a new growth biostimulant on acetylene reduction in nodulated seedlings of Alnus acuminata. Nitrogen Fixing Conference Abstracts. Ames, Iowa. July 30-August 3, 1989.

Sicco Smit, G. 1971. Notas silviculturales sobre Alnus jorullensis de Caldas, Colombia. Turrialba 21:83-88.

Tuk, J. 1980. Informe general del proyecto: Clasificaci normalizacie maderas para uso estructural. Instituto Tecnolo de Costa Rica, Cartago, C.R.

A publication of the Nitrogen Fixing Tree Association Winrock International 38 Winrock Drive Morrilton AR 72110-9537

NFTA 95-02 (Replaces 87-06) January 1995