Tree to 20 m. Bark smooth, yellowish grey. Branchlets greyish to purplish brown, lined, densely covered in yellowish brown tomentum when young. Buds stipitate, with two sparsely pubescent scales. Leaves deciduous, 5–14 × 3–8 cm, obovate to oblong, upper surface sparsely villous, lower surface densely covered with yellow-brown tomentum, becoming sparsely pubescent at maturity, 10–13 lateral veins on each side of the midvein, margins irregularly and minutely serrate, apex abruptly acute; petiole 1–2 cm long, densely tomentose when young. Pistillate inflorescences solitary, pedunculate, oblong, 1.5–4 × 0.8–2 cm. Cone woody, pendent, bracts 0.3–0.5 cm wide. Flowering May to July, fruiting August to September (China). Li & Skvortsov 1999. Distribution CHINA: western Sichuan (Kangding Xian, Luding Xian). Habitat Streamsides in montane forest, between 1600 and 2300 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7–8. Conservation status Not evaluated. Cross-references B273, K137.
Alnus lanata received a brief description from Bean (1976a), in which the hairy leaves and solitary cone were highlighted, but no indication was given of any cultural requirements. It remains a scarce tree, but it is grown in several important collections. Most specimens in the United Kingdom owe their origin to Matthew Ridley, whose tale of their introduction is worth repeating from his letter of May 2007. ‘I asked Professor Hong Tao [of the Chinese Academy of Forestry, Beijing] if he could get me seeds of Alnus lanata … He said it would be possible, but because there are so many bandits he would need a party of soldiers to protect him and the soldiers’ wages for the week would cost £10,000. I said “Thank you, no, I cannot manage that but never mind, it is nice to know it still exists.” Ten days later a large packet of seed arrived from him and he said “I did not need any soldiers, I have got the seed for you and the cost of the bus fare was £5.00”, so I sent him that.’
Trees from this collection, made at c.2000 m at Luding, Sichuan in Yunnan in 1997, are flourishing at Blagdon, growing straight and very fast, but although fruiting has occurred the seeds seem to be infertile (M. Ridley, pers. comm. 2007). At Stone Lane Gardens, although the tallest has reached 8 m, several individuals were dead or dying when seen in May 2007, possibly due to unsatisfactory soil conditions or excessive shade (P. Bartlett, pers. comm. 2007). A specimen at Ness is only 3–4 m tall, but very tolerant of exposure. The foliage is distinctly woolly, especially on the underside.