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TREES & plants

Fox Valley™ river birch

Mature specimen of Fox Valley™ river birch.

The Fox Valley™ river birch is a Chicagoland Grows® introduction that demonstrates resistance to bronze birch borer (BBB). It is a dense, compact tree with glossy green leaves and exfoliating bark.

This plant is a cultivar of a species that is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits.

Botanical name: 
Betula nigra 'Little King'
All Common Names: 
Fox Valley™ river birch
Family (English): 
Birch
Family (Botanic): 
Betulaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
Size Range: 
  • Compact tree (10-15 feet)
Mature Height: 
8-10 feet
Mature Width: 
8-10 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Intolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Spring blossoms, 
  • Fall color, 
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter, 
  • Mid winter, 
  • Late winter, 
  • Early fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Broad, 
  • Pyramidal, 
  • Round
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
Wildlife: 
  • Browsers, 
  • Game birds, 
  • Small mammals, 
  • Songbirds
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

This cultivar tolerates some dryness, but does not like hot, dry summers. Plants benefit with a 3 to 4 inch layer of mulch and supplemental water in dry periods.
Birches are considered  “bleeders”, avoid pruning in late spring before leaves emerge.

Disease, pests, and problems

Iron chlorosis in high pH soils.
Susceptible to aphids and leaf spots.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Resistant to bronze birch borer.
Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

A cultivated variety of a native species.

Bark color and texture 

An attractive cinnamon-colored peeling bark.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate, 2 to 3 inches long, triangular or wedge-shaped with doubly serrated tooth margins.
Dark green with lighter undersides, turning yellow in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Male flowers are long, slender catkins near tips of stems; female flowers stand upright along same twig.
Inconspicuous.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Cone-like with clusters of winged seeds, ripens in spring.

Betula nigra 'Little King' or Fox Valley™ river birch