Connected Sustainability | River Burch
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Betula nigra L.

River Burch


How to Recognize Me

River birch is a vigorous, fast-growing, medium-sized, deciduous tree that occurs on floodplains, swampy bottomlands and along streams. Leathery, diamond-shaped, medium to dark green leaves 1.5-3.5” long with doubly toothed margins turn yellow in fall.

Salmon-pink to reddish brown bark exfoliates to reveal lighter inner bark. Birch resin, or tar, processed from the bark, was the first super glue and is known to have been used for at least 80,000 years.
The tree’s wood has very little commercial value, but river birch is extremely popular as an ornamental. Its life is short compared to most trees, but it grows fast, is nicely forked, is wind and ice resistant and transplants easily at any age. Weakened birches become vulnerable to the bronze birch borer, which typically infects and kills birches stressed by summer heat and humidity.

River Birch has two different flowers: male and female. Male flowers grow in Autumn. These catkins are reddish-brown and stay on the tree through Winter. In early Spring these flowers “bloom” and produce lots of pollen. Female catkins grow in the Spring and are pollinated. The female catkins

then turn into a cone just over 1” long.


I Am Special to Wildlife

Birch seeds are eaten by many birds, including Carolina Chickadee, Wild Turkey, Voles and shrews. White-tailed Deer eat leaves and twigs. Beavers eat bark. Rabbits eat seedlings.Yellow-belliedSapsuckersdrillholesforbirchsap. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, squirrels and various insects also drink sap.

I Hold a Special Place In History

The Creeks used the birch to treat tuberculosis of the lungs. The Catawbas boiled buds and added sulfur to make a salve to treat ringworm and sores. The Alabama boiled the bark to treat sore horse hooves, and the Cherokee chewed the leaves or made a tea to treat colds, dysentery and urinary issues. Its oil was used to treat dandruff and as a perfume.


The Facts

  • Height: 40’ to 70’
  • Spread: 40’ to 60’
  • Sun: full sun; intolerant to shade Soil: moist, acidic, fertile soils including semi-aquatic
  • Bloom Time: April to May
  • Bloom Description: brown (male) green (female)
  • Flower: drooping, brownish
  • male catkins and smaller, upright, greenish female catkins
  • Fruit: cone filled with hairy seeds that travel by wind and water Tolerate: deer, drought, clay soil, wet soil, air pollution
  • Suggested Use: shade tree,
  • rain garden
Noted Trees