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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):


Family (Botanic):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

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

Seasons of Interest:

  • early winter,
  • midwinter,
  • late winter,
  • early fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Broad,
  • Pyramidal,
  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

Transplants Well:

  • Yes


  • 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.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

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

Location of Betula nigra 'Little King' (Fox Valley® river birch) at the Arboretum