It is a large deciduous tree with a silvery-gray bark, reaching up to 30 m in height and 60 cm in diameter. Leaves are alternate, simple, finely toothed, with protruding veins parallel to each other, 7–16 cm long and 5–10 cm wide. The flowers are catkins, and the male and female flowers are separated, but produced on the same tree. Male flowers are 10 to 25 cm long and pendant, while female flowers are erect, 1 to 2 cm long, with up to eight together in axillary racemes. Unusually for Alder, they are produced in the fall, with the seeds ripening the following year.
It is found throughout the Himalayas at an altitude of 500-3000 m above sea level from Pakistan through Nepal and Bhutan to Yunnan in southwestern China. It grows best in deep volcanic loamy soils, but it also grows on clay, sand and gravel. It tolerates a wide variety of soil types and grows well in very wet areas. It needs a lot of moisture in the soil and prefers coastal locations, but it also grows on slopes.The tree grows quickly and is sometimes planted as erosion control on hillsides and for land reclamation during shift tillage. It has small tubers on its roots that fix nitrogen. The wood is moderately soft. It is sometimes used to make crates and in lightweight construction, but is mainly used as firewood when it burns evenly but fairly quickly, and for making charcoal.Wood is considered to be short-lived and perishable with respect to decay resistance, and freshly cut logs must be quickly converted to lumber and dried to prevent browning and decay of the wood.