TREES & plants

Gray birch

Gray birch is a narrow, pyramidal tree of cool climates. Bright green leaves turn a yellow fall color. Older trees develop a chalky white bark that does not peel. A good selection for poor soils and other difficult sites, it also demonstrates some resistance to bronze birch borer (BBB).

Botanical name: 
Betula populifolia
All Common Names: 
Gray birch, White birch, Poplar birch
Family (English): 
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
Growth Rate: 
  • Medium
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Dry sites
  • Wet sites
  • Clay soil
  • Road salt
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Size Range: 
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet)
Shape or Form: 
  • Multi-stemmed
  • Narrow
  • Oval
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Shade
  • Parkway/street
  • Screen
Time of Year: 
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
More Information: 

Size and Form

20 to 40 feet high and 25 feet wide; irregular shape at maturity

Tree & Plant Care

A medium sized tree tolerant of hot, dry summers, poor soils and road salts.
Considered to have a short life span. Cultivar 'Whitespire' more desirable.
Avoid pruning birches in spring as they are bleeders (will lose quantities of sap).
Best planted  in spring.

Disease, pests and problems

Leaf miners and cankers are possible.
Chlorosis may occur in high pH soils.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Resistant to bronze birch borer, air pollution and road salt

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to the northeastern United States.
Common on poor soils.

Attracts birds & butterflies

Host to the tiger swallowtail, mourning cloak butterflies.

Bark color and texture 

Young trees have a reddish-brown color, older trees develop a chalky white bark that does not peel.
Black triangular patches form on bark, under branches.

Gray birch (Betula populifolia)Gray birch (Betula populifolia)photo: John Hagstrom
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate leaves; 2 to 3 inches long
Dark green, triangular-shaped, shiny, pendulous  leaves
Margins are double serrated, leaf tip is long and pointed
Yellow fall color

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Inconspicuous;  male flowers in cylindrical catkins; females also in a cylindrical structure, but much smaller.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Cylindrical clusters of winged nutlets, borne at end of branches, 2 to -3 inches long

Cultivars and their differences 

Whitespire  (Betula populifolia ‘Whitespire’):  Good resistance to bronze birch borer.  The name 'Whitespire' was incorrectly assigned to Betula platyphylla.  It is now assigned to Betula populifolia and the plants are often sold under the name 'Whitespire Senior' to avoid confusion.