Betula nigra - River Birch
Family: Betulaceae

Hear the scientific name

Betula nigra is a large, rapidly growing, Eastern U.S. native. River Birch is a fine-textured shade tree for dry or wet sites and is commonly produced in a multi-trunked form. It has a very attractive peach-colored exfoliating bark and is one of the best and most rapidly growing trees for both shade and ornamental bark.

F   E   A   T   U   R   E   S
  form2 form Form

-large deciduous tree

-maturing at 60' tall x 40' wide

-upright oval growth habit for the species (but often sold in clump form of 3-5 trunks)

-rapid growth rate

foliage Foliage

-alternate, ovate (broadly triangular), doubly serrated and slightly incised

-medium to dark green upper sides and silvery-colored undersides

-autumn color - yellowish green in poor years, but golden-yellow to yellow-brown in good years

Flowers
flowers

-male catkins to 3" long in Apr.; female flowers inconspicuous

Fruit
fruit

-resemble immature catkins, opening and shedding seeds in spring

Twig
twig

-red-brown, somewhat shiny, with cinnamon-colored, heavily-lenticeled branches exfoliating (peeling) to a brown-gray-light orange mixture on the species form

trunk2 trunk Trunk

-very scaly to platy

-gray-brown to almost black on the native species form, with selected species forms having peach-purple-colored exfoliating (peeling) bark

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Culture

-full sun to partial sun

-prefers moist, slightly acid soils (alkaline soils sometimes result in leaf chlorosis due to iron deficiency) but performs well in either wet or dry soils

-propagated primarily by rooted stem cuttings, but also by seed

-highly resistant to bronze birch borer (a potentially devastating pest of the popular white-barked birches) but susceptible to leaf miners and aphids, especially when under stress

-abundant availability in B&B form

-avoid pruning in spring unless sap bleeding from wounds will be tolerated

distribution map

Hardiness

-zones 4 to 9

Origin

-native to Eastern and Midwestern U.S.

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Assets

-not subject to bronze birch borer problems as are most birches

-rapid growth rate

-wet or dry site tolerant and heat tolerant

-exfoliating flaky bark

-shimmering bicolor summer foliage

-yellow autumn color in good years

-single trunk or clump forms

-dappled shade

-symmetrical branching

Liabilities

-alkaline soils sometimes yield chlorotic foliage

-a few surface roots with age

-overuse in the urban landscape may be associated with increasing problems such as attack by aphids and leaf miners

Function

-specimen, focal point, or shade tree (casts a light to medium shade)

Texture

-fine texture in foliage and when bare

-open to average density in foliage but thick density when bare

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Varieties and Cultivars - Search OSU PlantFacts for additional plants in this species

Alternates

-trees with distinct ornamental bark, or rapidly growing shade trees

 


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