Thursday, June 18, 2015

Meet The "River Birch" (Betula nigra)

The River Birch - Betula nigra - is very true to it's name, growing naturally near the banks of Rivers, Creeks and other wet areas. In many areas even serving as a natural erosion control on banks and in low lying areas. The natural distribution runs in almost a U pattern accross the central and Eastern United States. It is found as far north as Massachusetts and Connecticut in the East, Wisconsin and Minnesota centrally, all along the banks of the Mississippi and South from Florida to Texas and Okalahoma. It can be grown as an ornamental almost nationwide but thrives in zones 4-9. The River Birch is a deciduous tree that is considered both an Ornamental and Shade Tree.

Image Citation: (Left) -Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, & (Right) John Ruter, University of Georgia,

The River Birch is the only Birch that bears lobed leaves with silver undersides. The leaves are a glossy green and are 2-3 inches long. Young trees often sprout new leads from a common stump and have a pinkish to coffee brown bark. Mature trees can have bark ranging from a purple-gray with orange fissures to a cinnamon, some even have small scales. This variety of Birch is somewhat tolerant of drought but grows best in moist soil. It has beautiful bark that curls and peels offering interest year round. It is a rapid growing, growing from 13-24 inches in just a single year, when mature the reach between 40-70 feet tall with a spread of 40-60 feet. This tree produces brown & green catkins from April - May which are used by Redpolls and Pine Siskins, the very small but plentiful seeds are enjoyed by many Songbirds.

Image Citation:(Left & Right) T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, 

The River Birch is readily available from most Nurseries in the US and can be purchased in many different sizes and shapes. Generally growing in an oval shape when multi stemmed it can also be found with a single main trunk.

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