River Birch

Scientific name: Betula nigra

River Birch is one of the very best fast-growing shade trees. Easily grown average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. River birch is perhaps the most culturally adaptable and heat tolerant of the birches. Prefers moist, acidic, fertile soils including semi-aquatic conditions, but also tolerates drier soils. Adapts well to heavy clay soils and will tolerate poor drainage. Avoid pruning in spring when the sap is running.

Salmon-pink to reddish brown bark exfoliates to reveal lighter inner bark. In addition to the exfoliating bark that offers year-round appeal, river birch produces showy, reddish-green, 2- to 3-inch long male (staminate) flowers called catkins at the ends of branches. They appear in late summer and autumn and remain on the tree during the winter. Leathery, diamond-shaped, medium to dark green leaves (1.5-3.5″ long) with doubly toothed margins turn yellow in fall. Use river birch as a shade tree, as an attention-drawing specimen accent, or in a group of trees. In naturalized landscapes, river birch thrives along stream banks and ponds. Birch trees produce food for birds in the form of seeds (found in cone-shaped strobili), buds, and plays host to many species of insects/caterpillars For these reasons Birch trees are one of the top options for finding and attracting birds. Many birds, including chickadees, song sparrows, wild turkey, pine siskins, and finches, eat the seed.

Kyle Albee, BOB! Board member