TREES & plants

Bog birch

Fruit and leaves of bog birch.

Bog birch is common in the upper Midwest. It is a medium-sized, short-lived, clump-forming shrub for wet habitats. It may be difficult to find in the nursery trade.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

Botanical name: 
Betula pumila
All Common Names: 
bog birch; American dwarf birch; dwarf birch; low birch; swamp birch
Family (English): 
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Shrub
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Landscape Uses: 
  • Massing, 
  • Specimen
Size Range: 
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet), 
  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet)
Mature Height: 
5 to 10 feet high
Mature Width: 
5-10 feet wide
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 2, 
  • Zone 3, 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6
Soil Preference: 
  • Alkaline soil, 
  • Wet soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Prefers
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Intolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Requires
Planting Considerations: 
  • Intolerant of pollution, 
  • May be difficult to find in nurseries
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Fall color, 
  • Persistent fruit/seeds, 
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter, 
  • Mid winter, 
  • Late winter, 
  • Late spring, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Mounded, 
  • Multi-stemmed, 
  • Open, 
  • Thicket-forming, 
  • Upright
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

A colony-forming shrub of bogs and lake borders. 
Requires moist to wet areas in full sun. Prefers alkaline soil,  but will tolerate some acid. 
Shallow fibrous root system, difficult to transplant.
Relatively short-lived. Difficult to find in nurseries.

Disease, pests, and problems

Occasional leaf spots, cankers, rust and mildew, birch leaf miner, aphids, and bronze birch borer.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 10
Found in wet, swampy, marsh and bogs in northern Midwest.

Attracts birds & butterflies

Numerous birds favor seeds in late fall.

Bark color and texture 

Young bark is thin, reddish brown with warty lenticels. Older bark becomes dark gray and peels with age.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate. A fleshy, 1 1/2 to 2-inch oval to ovate leaf, with coarsely toothed margins.
Medium green turns a yellow fall color.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Cylindrical female catkins are a reddish color, male catkins along same stems are yellow.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Upright, cone-like, winged seeds

Betula pumila or Bog birch