TREES & plants

Paper birch

Paper birch has smooth, white bark.

This native tree has lovely white bark and yellow fall color, but is not a good tree for tough sites. It demonstrates some resistance to bronze birch borer (BBB).  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. 

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.


Botanical name: 
Betula papyrifera
All Common Names: 
paper birch, white birch, canoe birch
Family (English): 
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
Landscape Uses: 
  • Shade tree, 
  • Specimen
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
Mature Height: 
50-70 feet
Mature Width: 
19-45 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 2, 
  • Zone 3, 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil, 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Prefers
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Tolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Intolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • Intolerant of pollution
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Spring blossoms, 
  • Fall color, 
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter, 
  • Mid winter, 
  • Late winter, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall, 
  • Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Round
Growth Rate: 
  • Fast
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
  • Game birds, 
  • Insect pollinators, 
  • Sapsuckers, 
  • Small mammals, 
  • Songbirds
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

This tree performs better in more northern climates.  Trees may be stressed by the hot summers of northern Illinois.
Avoid pruning birches in spring as they are bleeders (will lose quantities of sap).

Disease, pests, and problems

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

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Shows some resistance to the bronze birch borer.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 10
Native to more northern areas of the United States and Canada.

Bark color and texture 

Bark is very white and peels readily.  Long, black lenticels and V-shaped black marks at branch connections are prominent on this species as it ages.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate leaves; 2 to 4 inches long.
Dark green, oval-shaped, leaves have double serrated margins.
Leaves are dark green in summer, changing to yellow in fall.

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.

Cultivars and their differences

Renaissance Reflection® paper birch (Betula papyrifera 'Renci'):  A fast-growing cultivar with striking white bark.  The dark green foliage transitions to a golden color in the fall. This tree is resistant to bronze birch borer (BBB), but does not do well when exposed to drought or polluted conditions.



Betula papyrifera or Paper birch