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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): 
Birch
Family (Botanic): 
Betulaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Native Locale: 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Wide median
  • Residential and parks
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Shade
  • Parkway/street
  • Screen
Size Range: 
  • Small tree (15-25 feet)
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet)
Mature Height: 
20-40 feet
Mature Width: 
10-20 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Intolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Intolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Tolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • May be difficult to find in nurseries
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Attractive bark
  • Spring blossoms
  • Fall color
Season of Interest: 
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Narrow
  • Pyramidal
Transplants Well: 
  • Moderate
Wildlife: 
  • Game birds
  • Songbirds
  • Small mammals
  • Insect pollinators
  • Sapsuckers
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.