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).
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.
All common names:
- Residential and parks,
- Wide median
Tree or Plant Type:
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- North America
- Shade tree,
- medium tree (25-40 feet),
- Small tree (15-25 feet)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
- Zone 3,
- Zone 4,
- Zone 5 (Chicago),
- Zone 6,
- Zone 7
- Moist, well-drained soil
- Dry sites,
- Wet sites,
- Alkaline soil,
- Clay soil
- May be difficult to find in nurseries
- Spring blossoms,
- Fall color,
- Attractive bark
Seasons of Interest:
- early winter,
- late winter,
- early fall,
- mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
- Game birds,
- Insect pollinators,
- Small mammals,
Tree & Plant Care
A medium sized tree tolerant of hot, dry summers and poor soils.
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 and air pollution.
Native geographic location and habitat
Native to the northeastern United States.
Common on poor soils.
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.
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
“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."
Whitespire Senior gray birch (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.