Tree to 20 m. Bark smooth, dark grey. Branchlets densely pubescent and ferruginous. Buds with two glabrous scales. Leaves deciduous, 5–16 × 3–7 cm, ovate to elliptic or oblong, rarely lanceolate, both surfaces with yellow pubescence along the veins, 12–17 lateral veins on each side of the midvein, margins entire or with minute serrations, apex abruptly acute; petiole with dense yellow pubescence, 1–2 cm long. Staminate inflorescences catkin-like, 1.5–5.5 cm long; pistillate inflorescences solitary, pedunculate, globose to oblong, 1.5–3 × 1–1.5 cm. Cone woody, 1.5–1.8 × 0.8–1 cm, bracts 0.3–0.4 cm wide. Flowering May to July, fruiting August to September (China). Li & Skvortsov 1999. Distribution CHINA: Guizhou, southwest Sichuan, Yunnan. Habitat Near permanent water sources in montane forest, between 1500 and 3000 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 6, or possibly lower. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Li & Skvortsov 1999.
This Chinese alder was discovered by Camillo Schneider on his expedition to Yunnan in 1914 with Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti, and was named by him in honour of Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria (1861–1948, abdicated 1918), who was a keen botanist and gardener. A few years ago Matthew Ridley happened to find himself sitting next to Ferdinand’s grandson, Tsar Simeon II (ruled under a regency 1943–1946; elected Prime Minister of Bulgaria 2001–2005, as Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha), and mentioned Ferdinand’s interest in plants. ‘Yes, he was a great botanist,’ was the reply. ‘He was always in the mountains in full dress uniform on an enormous white horse, with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other!’
It is unclear when A. ferdinandi-coburgii was first introduced but it is now repres ented in several collections, and seems to be hardy throughout the British Isles. At Howick there are a number of specimens grown from a collection by Charles Howick (H 1660) at 2150 m in the Luoji Shan, Sichuan in 1992. The largest was about 10 m in 2005 and seemed healthy, with glossy leaves. Alnus ferdinandi-coburgii is a straight-growing tree, with ascending branches, potentially capable of becoming quite large.