River birch is a popular, fast-growing native tree for the home landscape. Attractive salmon-pink to reddish brown bark exfoliates to reveal lighter inner bark. Dark green foliage turns a beautiful buttery yellow in the fall. This species is resistant to bronze birch borer (BBB).
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- Chicago area
- North America
- Zone 3
- Zone 4
- Zone 5
- Zone 6
- Zone 7
- Zone 8
- Zone 9
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
- Wet sites
- Occasional flooding
- Road salt
- Acid soil
- Moist, well-drained soil
- Wet soil
- Large tree (more than 40 feet)
- Early fall
- Mid fall
Size and Form
40 to 70 feet high and 40 to 60 feet wide; rounded shape at maturity
Tree & Plant Care
River birch is drought sensitive and 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.
River birch can be relatively short-lived.
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
Common along rivers and streams.
Attracts birds & butterflies
Seeds are favorite of many birds.
Host to the tiger swallowtail, mourning cloak butterflies.
Bark color and texture
An attractive cinnamon-colored peeling bark and weeping branches.
photo: John HagstromLeaf 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, turns 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.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
Cone-like with hairy clusters of winged seeds, ripens in spring.
Cultivars and their differences
Dura-Heat® (Betula nigra ‘BNMTF’): Smaller, glossy, olive green leaves, whitish, exfoliating bark, more resistant to aphids.
Fox Valley® (Betula nigra ‘Little King’): Dense, 10 to 12 feet high, compact growth habit, branches to the ground, glossy green leaves, exfoliating bark:
Introduced through the Chiacagoland Grows program
Heritage ™ (Betula nigra ‘Cully’): Larger, glossy, dark green leaves, nearly white interior peeling bark, more heat tolerant.
Summer Cascade (Betula nigra 'Summer Cascade'): A weeping form; 6 feet high and 10 feet wide; taller if staked.
Tecumseh Compact® (Betula nigra ‘Studetec’): A 10 to 12 foot tree with a rounded compact form and semi-arching branches, cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark.