Lifespan of birch trees

River birch

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.

Disease, pests and problems

Iron chlorosis is common in high pH soils.
Susceptible to aphids, leaf miners and leaf spots.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Resistant to bronze birch borer
Tolerant of black walnut toxicity

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 7
Common along rivers and streams.

Bark color and texture

An attractive cream and cinnamon-colored peeling bark and weeping branches.

River birch (Betula nigra) photo: John Hagstrom 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, 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, ripen in spring.

Cultivars and their differences

“These plants are cultivars 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.”

City Slicker® river birch (Betula nigra ‘Whit XXV’): Dark green foliage that turns bight yellow in fall. Good drought tolerance.

Dura-Heat® river birch (Betula nigra ‘BNMTF’): Smaller, glossy, olive green leaves, whitish, exfoliating bark, more resistant to aphids; better resistance to heat.

Fox Valley® river birch (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® river birch (Betula nigra ‘Cully’): Larger, glossy, dark green leaves, nearly white interior peeling bark, more heat tolerant.

Shiloh Splash river birch (Betula nigra ‘Shiloh Splash’): A compact form growing 10 feet high and 8 feet wide. The foliage is variegated and has cream or ivory edges.

Summer Cascade river birch (Betula nigra ‘Summer Cascade’): A weeping form; 6 feet high and 10 feet wide; taller if staked.

Tecumseh Compact® river birch (Betula nigra ‘Studetec’): A 10 to 12 foot tree with a rounded compact form and semi-arching branches, cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark.

Got a birch tree that doesn’t look too healthy after our long, dry summer? You aren’t alone. Both European white birch and river birch are popular landscape trees in the Inland Northwest. However, they aren’t easy to keep healthy here.

In their natural habitat, birches live along the forest edges or near streams where their roots can stay cool and moist even during the hottest part of the year. Their roots are very shallow and very sensitive to dry conditions even for a very short period. At the edge of the forest or near a stream, their roots are shaded by other trees or watered from a nearby stream while their crowns reach into the full sun.

Unfortunately, when birches are planted in the landscape, their need for cool roots and a steady water supply are often ignored. Many homeowners want to showcase the beautiful bark of the European white birch or the river birch in a prominent place. Unfortunately, that usually means the middle of the front lawn exposed to the hot sun and surrounded by the most water hungry plant in the garden – lawn.

As a result, instead of their roots being cooled by the shade of other trees, they are sitting out in the hot sun with the lawn planted above their roots sucking up most of the moisture.

To finish the injustice, most homeowners then rely on the sprinklers set to keep the lawn happy (1 inch per week) and expect it to also water the birch. It won’t. Sprinklers set for lawns don’t soak down to the birch roots. The result is a stressed tree that begins dying back after a few short years. A birch under water stress is a magnet for bronze birch borers.

The birch borer is a small, bronze-colored beetle that attacks weakened or stressed birches from May to August. The insects are drawn to stressed trees by the release of a physiological signal. The presence of D-shaped holes in the trunk indicates the borers are in the tree.

The females lay eggs on the trunk of the tree. The larvae then bore into the tree and feed on the cambium layer, eventually eating their way around the trunk and girdling the tree, cutting off the tree’s ability to transport water and food, thus killing it. A tree will often die in stages. First the top will die followed slowly by other parts of the tree over a few years.

To reduce the potential of borer attacks, deep soak the trees regularly. Avoid pruning trees in the summer as fresh wounds draw borers. Paint the lower tree trunks with carbaryl (Sevin) in April and any wounds through the summer to kill curious females who might be looking for a place to lay eggs. Once the larvae are inside the tree, there is no way to reach them. Apply the carbaryl according to label directions late in the day to prevent chance contact with honey bees.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at [email protected]

Longing for the snow-white birch tree of our northern neighbors

By Adrian Higgins Adrian Higgins Gardening columnist January 2, 2019

A number of conifers are candidates for the Official Evergreen of Winter, but among the leaf-shedding shade trees there is just one superstar, the birch tree with its peeling snow-white bark.

Birches grow in groves as nature’s marble columns. Against a clear blue sky, they seem to capture the crisp, cold intensity of the season. At night under the moon, they glow like a company of ghosts.

If you have moved to the Mid-Atlantic or the Sun Belt from northern regions, you will find yourself missing birches, or at least the white-barked versions. They dislike the heat and the humidity of our summers, they get stressed, and they are attacked by a deadly pest named the bronze birch borer. It is no use. If you want to create the North Woods in your Silver Spring backyard, the usual advice is to plant some crape myrtles or serviceberries instead.

Still not feeling the latitude adjustment? Sit by the fire and read some poems by Robert Frost. In “Birches,” he imagines climbing a tree toward heaven, boyishly, “till the tree could bear no more/But dipped its top and set me down again.”

Washington is a town of transplants, many of whom yearn for childhood trees that they cannot grow. Whither the olives, the citrus, the aspens, the poplars, the hawthorns, the horse chestnuts, the willow-leaf pears, the firs, the spruces, the redwoods?

You get used to a new treescape and grow to like its familiarity. But for once-boreal creatures such as myself, the absence of the white birch is always felt and especially in winter.

In North America, the white-barked beauty is the paper birch, Betula papyrifera . This is the tree whose bark can be cut away in generous sheets. This is handy for building birch canoes, but not so great for the donor tree. Donald Culross Peattie, in his book “A Natural History of North American Trees,” speaks of the first experience of paddling a light, strong, birch-skinned canoe. “At the first stroke of the paddle it shot out over the lake water like a bird . . . for on all the waters of the world there floats no sweeter craft than this.”

I prefer my white birches in situ, and think of their considered placement on a hillside at the estate named Naumkeag in the Berkshires in Stockbridge, Mass. Here, the landscape architect Fletcher Steele (1885-1971) alluded to Italian villa stairs and fountain grottoes with the fluid tracery of steel-tubed railings, pairing this abstraction with a grove of multi-trunked paper birches. The resulting Blue Steps, dating to 1938, are an ingenious synthesis of ancient and modern, Old World and New.

As the trees died over the years, the birches were replanted until few of the originals remained. In 2013, as part of a three-year restoration of the estate’s gardens, all the old birches were removed and fresh ones planted, some 60 trees. Archival photos aided in adhering to Steele’s original design. All have now matured and “there’s white bark growing through all of them,” said Mark Wilson, curator of collections for the Trustees of Reservations, the state preservation group that runs Naumkeag. The property is open from April to October.

The white birch of Europe is the silver birch, Betula pendula, named for the way its branches hang down. You will find self-seeded thickets of it from Bavaria to Scotland and beyond. There is something serene and timeless about such places, even though the birch is a relatively short-lived tree.

An Asian species, found in Tibet and southwestern China, named Betula szechuanica, is thought to be the whitest of birches, according to the newly published book “Birch” by Anna Lewington. Within the book’s pages, a variety of another species named the whitebarked Himalayan birch looks as if it has been formed of alabaster. But I am taunting you, for to grow them in a hot, humid climate is to invite disaster. As the tree guru Michael Dirr writes of planting the silver birch in such a setting, “you might as well send a formal dinner invitation to the bronze birch borer.”

If you live high in the Appalachians or in northern latitudes, you could turn to a few native species of birch, the gray birch, the sweet birch and the yellow birch. They have interesting bark — the yellow birch has a cherrylike bronze coloration and attractive peeling — but none approaches the chalky beauty of the silver or paperbark birch.

There is one birch for the South, namely the river birch, whose thick, dark-gray trunks can be found along stream banks, leaning into the bright open water.

Varieties of this species make for handsome garden plants; the best-known is Heritage, others are Dura-Heat and City Slicker.

They have lovely peeling bark and can display a pleasing salmon-tan coloration. But there are drawbacks. The strong color of youth dulls with each passing year, and the trees develop into large specimens, far greedier for space than most gardeners anticipate.

They also don’t like drought stress and will drop leaves when unhappy. Another problem, for me, is that Heritage (a.k.a. Cully) was simply overplanted over the past 30 years. We had too much of a good thing. Or perhaps the real problem was that it wasn’t bone white.

Why are birches white, you ask, when most trees make do with brown or gray?

One theory is that as a thin-skinned northern species, the birch is prone to the phenomenon of winter splitting. The low sun heats the night-frozen bark too quickly and it splits. Birches figured out that white pigmentation reflects the rays and reduces the effect.

This is why gardeners wrap the trunks of maples and other vulnerable trees in winter, but that and the companion practice of whitewashing trunks seem to have fallen off. It would be nice to think that all those hip dudes in the city on electric scooters are racing home to wrap tree trunks. Honestly, I don’t think that’s the case. Trees must now look after themselves, something white birches figured out a long time ago — though not in my precinct, alas.

@adrian_higgins on Twitter

Tip of the Week

Early winter is the time to think about garden transformations in the year ahead, from something as modest as container plantings for the deck to a major renovation of the patio. Shelter magazines, garden design books and social media images offer ideas and inspiration. Keep it strong and simple — consider form over flowers.

— Adrian Higgins

Culturally and Economically Important Nontimber Forest Products of Northern Maine

Plant Profiles

Paper Birch, Betula papyrifera

Family: Betulaceae
Other names: White birch, bouleau blanc (French), masqemus (Maliseet), maskwi (Mi’kmaq)
Immediately recognizable due to its striking white bark, paper birch is an exceptionally versatile tree. Paper birch is extremely cold tolerant, and has the widest range of any of our native birch trees, spanning from Maine to Alaska. Walking through the woods, you might come across white cylinders of rot-resistant bark left empty as the inner wood rots away. Rot resistance made paper birch bark a favorite material for canoe building, but this is only one of its many attributes. In addition to being aesthetically beautiful, paper birch is sometimes referred to as ‘the medicine tree’, because the leaves, bark, twigs and sap have a long history of use for curative purposes.

Physical Description: A fast growing, small to medium sized tree, paper birch can reach up to 90 feet tall, but is usually shorter. It is easily distinguished by its characteristic white, exfoliating bark that peels off in horizontal strips. Oval-shaped leaves have doubly-serrate margins and pointed tips. Twigs are slender, reddish-brown and dotted with lighter colored enlarged pores called lenticels. Individual trees have both male and female flowers in separate, cylindrical clusters known as catkins.

Habitat: Paper birch is commonly found in mixed hardwood-conifer forests and along riverbanks. It will sometimes form pure stands following disturbances such as logging or fire. Drought and shade intolerant, paper birch needs abundant light to become established. While it grows in a variety of soil types, paper birch does best in well drained soils such as sandy loams.

Uses: Winter bark of birch trees is used to make baskets, containers, decorative hair clips and other utilitarian items. Bark is actually made up of several thin layers, held together by a powdery white substance called betulin, which can be used as a painkiller. In addition, paper birch bark is highly rot resistant, and makes an excellent fire starter, even when wet. The leaves, twigs and sap of paper birch are used to treat skin conditions. Although not commonly done in Maine, the sap of paper birch (as well as yellow birch) may be used to make syrup.

Preparation: Winter bark must be warmed before shaping into containers and other items. Betulin from bark may be extracted in alcohol to make a tincture that is taken internally, or infused into warm oil to make a topical salve.

When to harvest: Harvest birch sap in the spring, leaves and twigs in the spring and summer. Bark can be harvested in the spring for certain applications, but one interviewee noted that in order to obtain a stiff, non-exfoliating bark, harvesting should take place in the winter:

“You have to collect in the winter, when the sap is down. If you collect it when the sap is up in the spring of the year, it’s very limber. You can make pouches out of it, but it exfoliates. It’ll just come apart layer by layer by layer. You know, you have to lash the edges of it and everything else, and it’s a pain in the neck to try to deal with. You collect when the sap is down, and stiff.”

Tips for Sustainable Harvesting/Management: Do not peel too much exfoliating bark off of any one birch- this can seriously harm or even kill the tree. Instead, first look for bark that has fallen off the tree on its own- it is just as potent. When done correctly (taking care not to peel off the inner bark, including the phloem where the sap runs), harvesting large pieces of winter bark will not harm birch trees. It will simply cause the bark to grow back much darker for several years, like tree in this photograph. But there is a trick to this, so it is best to learn from someone experienced.

Photos by Michelle Baumflek

Species information reference: 3

Information about medicinal plant uses is provided for educational purposes only. It should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for consultation with a licensed physician.

Last Modified: 01/13/2011

Types of Birch Trees

Birch trees are useful to people in many ways. Read on to know why the birches are so much in demand in the commercial market today.

Did You Know?

A birch tree can sustain extreme weather conditions and hence is a symbol of stability, growth, and adaptability in Celtic cultures.

  • Kingdom – Plantae (Plants)
  • Division – Magnoliophyta (Flowering Plants)
  • Class – Dicotyledons
  • Order – Fagales (Beech, Birch Family)
  • Family – Betulaceae (Birch Family)
  • Genus – Betula (Birch)

Birches are deciduous trees belonging to genus Betula. The roots of its common name lie in an old German word birka. This genus name has a Latin origin; it comprises 30 to 60 taxa out of which the most common ones are described below.

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The trees are closely related to the oak family and are usually found growing in the northern hemisphere.

Name: Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), also known as Canoe Birch.

These are small to medium-sized trees living up to 140 years. Color of the bark is commonly white and reddish-brown. The tree derives its name from its nature of easily peeling off, or flaking like a parchment of paper. The leaves are alternate and roughly triangular in shape. The male and female flowers are in separate catkins (inflorescences).

It is native to the northern part of North America.

It grows well in well-drained acidic soil. It also grows in sandy, or silty soil.


  • The sap of this tree is used in the preparation of beer, wine, and birch syrup.
  • The bark is widely used as a fire starter.

Name: Downy Birch (Betula pubescens), also known as European White Birch.

It is a medium-sized tree often mistaken for silver birch. Downy birch has a grayish-white bark with the presence of horizontal lenticular features on it. The leaves are ovate-triangular in shape having a serrated margin. Flowers bloom in spring, and the fruits are elongated.

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These trees are found growing in Northern Europe, Asia, and are native to Iceland and Greenland.

It grows well in wet, poorly drained soil.


  • Although the wood of this tree is prone to getting infected with insects, it is still commonly used in the construction of indoor furniture and other plywood objects.

Name: Water or Red birch (Betula occidentalis)

It is a small-sized tree growing up to 10 meters, usually along the banks of rivers or a water body. The bark is dark reddish-brown in color and does not exfoliate like other birch trees. Leaves are thin and ovate with serrated margin, and the twigs are hairy in nature. The female catkins are upright in nature whereas the male catkins are pendulous. Fruits contain multiple winged seeds.

This species is native to the western part of North America.

It grows well in wet soil.


  • The wood is used as a firewood.
  • It is helpful in reducing erosion and soil runoff when planted on the banks of water bodies.
  • Due to its small size, it is often fed upon by animals, such as goats, deer, and sheep.

Name: Gray Birch (Betula populifolia)

It’s a small-sized tree, and although short-lived, it grows at a fast rate. It often has numerous trunks rising from an old tree stump. The bark is gray in color, has a triangular shape, and coloring at the point where the branch joins the trunk. The male flowers are pendulous and female flowers are upright. The fruit matures in autumn and is composed of numerous winged seeds.

It is native to North America.

Well-drained soil and sometimes sandy soil suit its growth.


  • It is used as a firewood.
  • It is used in the construction of furniture and high-grade plywood.

Name: River Birch (Betula nigra), also known as water birch, or black birch.

This is a medium to large-sized deciduous tree (25 – 30 meters) often having multiple trunks. The color of the bark is variable ranging from brown to creamy white. The bark peels in a manner of thin curly sheets. The leaves are alternate, ovate with a doubly serrated margin. Flowers are similar to all birches, and the fruits mature in late spring.

Native to Eastern United States, it is often found in swamps and floodplains.

It is best adapted for moist soil.


  • It’s the most preferred tree for landscape designs.
  • In olden days, the leaves were used as a cure for dysentery.
  • The sap is used in the preparation of birch beer and vinegar.

Name: Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

It’s a medium-sized tree (15 – 25 meters tall) having a white bark, often with diamond-shaped markings on it. The leaves are triangular and doubly-toothed. The flowers bloom before the leaves during the onset of spring, with the fruits being produced during late summer.

It is found in Europe and Asia.

It grows well in sandy and dry soil.


  • It is used for landscape designing.
  • The sap is used in the treatment of kidney stones.
  • The bark is used for tanning leather.

Name: Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis), also called Jacquemontii Birch

It’s a medium-sized tree (20 meters tall). The bark is reddish-brown with horizontal lenticels present on it, and it exfoliates in large sheets in a horizontal manner. Leaves are hairy and ovate. Flowers bloom in summer, and the fruits ripen in autumn.

It is native to the Himalayan range.

It grows well in wet soil.


  • The peeled-off bark is often so broad that it can be used for writing long texts.
  • It is commonly used for packing butter and as a bandage.
  • It is widely used as firewood.

Other Common Varieties

Type Height (in ft.) Shape Spread (in ft.) Soil
Crimson Frost Birch 30 to 35 Upright and oval 20 Good for heavy clay soil
Heritage River Birch 40 to 70 Pyramidal or oval, multi-trunked 40 to 60 Suitable for acidic and moist soil, also adapts to clayey, wet soil
Yellow Birch 60 to 80 Irregular crown 30 Well-drained and fertile sandy soil
Young’s Weeping Birch 15 Weeping habit 20 Damp, well-drained, neutral

Eleven taxa out of the 30 to 60 discovered so far are included in the IUCN 2011 Red List of Threatened Species. Their extensive usage, mainly for furniture and other construction purposes, coupled with their short life, put them at a risk of being extinct in the distant future.

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Why birch?

Birch (Latin Bétula) —is a genus of deciduous trees and shrubs in the family Betulaceae. Birch is widespread in the Northern Hemisphere and is one of the prevailing wood species in the territory of Russia. The total amount of birch species is about a hundred or a little bit more!

Many parts of birch are put to good use: wood, bark, white upper layer of bark, birch juice. Birch buds and leaves are used in medicine. Some species are used for forest shelterbelts and in landscape gardening.

Species of Birch genus

List of Betula species

The species of this genus feature high polymorphism. Different investigators have different vision of status of some taxons, referred to the genus. Commonly, the amount of species is estimated at about one hundred or a little bit more.

According to the data of Royal Botanic Gardens Kew’s web-site, the genus numbers 113 species and hybrids, among which the best known are:

Cherry birch (Betula lenta). A species from North America with glossy reddish-brown or almost black bark.

Dwarf birch (Betula nana). A shrub which is usually up to 1 m high with small roundish leaves. It grows in Europe on wetlands, in waterlogged pine forests.

Kamchatka birch or arctic dwarf birch (Betula humilis). A shrub up to 2 m high with oval leaves; it grows in Europe along water banks and on wetlands.

Silver birch or warty birch (Betula pendula). The species is widespread in Europe and Siberia; it can be also found in Nothern Africa. The bark varies from white snow to light-gray. The usual height is 10-15 m, sometimes up to 30 m. The browses are bare and warted (in contrast to downy birch, which has floccose browses with no warts).

Himalayan birch (Betula utilis). A species native to Himalayas up to 18 m high with light smooth bark.

Downy birch, also known as white, European white or hairy birch (Betula pubescens). In European Russia it often grows beside warty birch. See above about how to distinguish these species. This birch is of nomenclature type.

Black birch or river birch (Betula nigra). A species native to eastern Northern America. Saplings have white and smooth bark, the older trees have dark and wrinkled bark. Suggestively, it is an ancestral type.

Erman’s birch (Betula ermanii). Can be found in Kamchatka, Sakhalin, along the shore of the sea of Okhotsk. It is called “stone birch” in Russian due to uncommonly hard, dense and heavy wood, which drowns in water.

We use the following species in our manufacture:

-Silver birch or warty birch (Betula pendula)

-Downy birch, also known as white, European white or hairy birch (Betula pubescent).

Physical properties of birch.

Moisture content.
The freshly felled birch has the following moisture content (average): wood- 78%; bark – 58%.
Unlike with heartwood trees the moisture here is evenly distributed across the bole. To calculate the processes of drying and humidifying of wood one has to know moisture conductivity coefficient. Moisture conductivity of birch at a normal temperature is about twice as small as of soft wood (spruce, pine), which is explained by higher density of wood. As temperature rises moisture conductivity increases, while the correlation mentioned above is maintained.
Due to quite low values of moisture conductivity, the birch sawn lumbers tend to cupping, therefore it requires scrupulous attitude to management of a drying process.
Birch belongs to highly desiccating species. Its wood swelling (desiccation) coefficients are the following:

* 0.26- 0.28 radially
* 0.31-0.34 tangentially;
* volumetric 0.54-0.64.

When contacting water directly, the maximum moisture content of birch wood is 135%, bark – 63%.

The main kinds of birch (silver, downy, yellow and black) are referred to medium hard species. Their average density (at 12% moisture content) is 640 kg/m3. Density of Korean birch is 685 kg/m3; Dahurica birch – 725 kg/m3; Schmidt’s birch – 975 kg/m3.

Liquids permeability.
It is an important property when applying coatings. Birch with its characteristics is referred to well-soaking species.

Mechanical properties of birch.

Wood of the main kinds of birch features quite high strength values, ranking just a little below oak, while Erman’s birch and all the more Schmidt’s birch even outperform oak.
Tensile strength (Silver and Downy birch):

* at static bending – 109.5 MPa;
* at stretching along the grain – 136.5 MPa;
* at compression along the grain – 54 MPa;
* at splitting along radial plane – 9.02 MPa:
* at splitting along tangential plane 10.9 MPa.

Modulus of flexibility at static bending – 14.2 hPa.

Processing and performance properties of birch:

* impact strength – 92.9 kJ/m2; hardness:
* at ends – 46.3 N/mm2;
* radial – 35.9 N/mm2;
* tangential – 32.1 N/mm2.

Durability (abrasion resistance) of birch wood can be evaluated as high. With this factor birch doesn’t underperform oak, thereby birch can be used for parquet manufacturing. It is easy bendable and suitable for other kinds of processing, can be easily used for imitation of valuable species, is easy to paint on and polish (minimum height of microroughness – 30-60 µm).
Resistance to plucking of metal mountings (like nails or screws) is slightly higher than the same of oak: for nails it is 160-190 N/mm, for screws – 130-140 N/mm (tangentially and radially).Decay resistance of wood species (resistance to biological factors – fungi) is commonly expressed in conditional units (with respect to resistance of linden sap-wood). According to European standard EH 350-2:1994 regarding this factor, the species fall into five classes. The first class of high-resistant species involves teak (India) and eucalyptus (Australia), Russian oak and larch belong to resistant species (the second class), while birch (the most common species) is referred to the last five class of low-resistant species. The value of relative resistance of birch is 1.8 (oak 5.2, larch – 9.1).

Fields of use.

Birch wood is most widely used for producing rotary cut veneer in manufacture of plywood and densified wood laminates. Beyond that, birch is used for production of parquet, wooden parts of guns, turnery and household goods. Application of birch in constructional elements is limited due to its tendency to cupping. Wood of Karelian birch (with a beautiful texture pattern caused by wood flaws, like curly grain and knots) is used for manufacture of high-end furniture and various handicrafts.
Crushed wood is used for wood chip boards and fiber boards, cellulose, furfural, xylitol and other forest chemical products.
Dry distillation enables to obtain chain chemical products, which serve as a basis for production of varnishes, formalin, perfumes. Birch logs are also used for charring.
Birch logs are a valuable fuel with high calorific capacity. Soot is used for production of inks and paints.

More good news: Since the emergence of bronze birch borer, many new birch species and varieties have been discovered that are resistant to the pest, including river birch, which grows beautifully in New York and Connecticut.

Fact #5

Both male and female birch trees flower (the name for that is “monoecious”). The flowers, known as catkins, on male trees droop down — and on female trees, they sit upright.

Fact #6

Though birch trees grow quickly, they don’t live as long as other ornamental trees. The average lifespan of a birch tree is about 140 years, still long enough for your family to enjoy its beauty for generations.

Fact #7

White birch trees aren’t the only kind of birch tree out there. In addition to the river birch, which we mentioned earlier, there are at least 10 birch species native to North America, and much more native to Europe and Asia. They’re all characterized by the eye-shaped markings in their bark, earning them the nickname of “The Watchful Tree.”

Love Birch Trees Even More Now?

If you’re a homeowner lucky enough to have a stately birch in your landscape, now you’ll be able to impress your neighbors and guests with all kinds of birch tree trivia. Love the beautiful birch even more and want a grove of your own? Contact the tree-care professionals at Neave Landscaping!
We’ll set up a complimentary property assessment that will determine the best type of trees (and other plants) for your landscape, and help you design and install the perfect outdoor living space. We can even help you care for your trees and plants after we’ve installed them.

If you’re in the Hudson Valley, call (845) 463-0592. From Westchester County, dial (914) 271-7996, and if you’re in Connecticut, call us at (203) 212-4800. Or fill out the web form on our site, and we’ll contact you to set up a consultation.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Garden Detective: Birch tree is looking sad | The Sacramento Bee

I live in the Fair Oaks area and have noticed birch trees with dead branches at the top (including ours). Is there a disease in the area, and is the whole tree going to die?

– Lois Gulliksen, Fair Oaks

You are not alone. Birch trees are one of the most common landscape trees in our area. But they weren’t meant for drought – or long lives.

Your tree is probably a European white birch ( Betula pendula), according to the UC master gardeners. As these trees mature, the bark on the main trunk and limbs becomes white but is marked with deep, black clefts.

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In the Sacramento region, the life span of a birch tree is approximately 25 to 40 years. Decline will often show in branch die-back or leaf drop. During drought, birch trees – which need consistent and deep irrigation – show signs of stress such as those dead branches. Or that die-back may just be signs of old age and a steady decline.

These trees often are compromised by where they grow – in the middle of a lawn. If irrigation was cut back during the drought, the tree’s water supply also was impacted. Also, anything that goes on the lawn goes into the tree.

The birch root system is extremely sensitive to fertilizers and herbicides, including weed-and-feed products as well as mechanical damage. Those will cause problems.

Lack of water and dry soil also will cause decline. The natural habitat of birch trees is the forest, where they grow alongside creeks and streams.

To determine the soil moisture, push a long screwdriver into the soil, working outward from the trunk to the drip line under the leaves. If the screwdriver does not easily penetrate the soil, then the tree must be irrigated.

Lay several lengths of soaker hoses, working outward from the trunk to the perimeter of the tree under the drip line. Attach a garden hose to the soaker hose and let the water drip for several hours until the screwdriver will easily slip into the soil.

If your tree is in a lawn, remove the grass from around the trunk out to the drip line and replace it with a layer of fine bark mulch, chopped red cedar bark or aged compost. A bender board around the perimeter of the mulch will prevent the mulch from working into the lawn.

With a little TLC, you may coax a few more years out of your birch.

Life Span of Birch Trees

birch tree forest in the mist, Kazakhstan image by Lars Lachmann from

Prized for their graceful shape and distinctive bark, birches are often used in home landscaping. Birches are so plentiful throughout the Alaskan wilderness that tapping the trees for sap is growing in popularity. Some species of birch trees can live over 300 years under optimal conditions. However, shallow root systems, drought, lack of sunlight, diseases and insect damage can all adversely affect these trees and reduce a tree’s lifespan to less than 20 years.

White Birch (Betula papyrifera)

This versatile species is common in the Northeast. A strong, flexible white birch tree can live for 80 to 140 years. Sometimes referred to as Canoe Birch, Silver Birch, or Paper Birch, this tree is clearly identified by its papery white, peeling bark. The name canoe birch derived from the use of these trees by Native Americans for making and sealing watercraft. These are the species most commonly tapped for syrup as well as being the trees most susceptible to damage from birch borers.

Grey or Wire Birch (Betula populifolia)

Grey birch can live for 80 to 130 years. This tree’s muted white bark is less paper-like than the white birch and does not peel as easily. Grey birch is distinguishable by rough black spots between the bands of white. The tree’s slightly darker color makes it less susceptible than white birch to damage from birch borers.

Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

The shade tolerant yellow birch has an average lifespan of 150 years. These slow-growing trees have golden yellow shredding bark that is quite shaggy looking. Crushing the twigs or tapping for sap will release a powerful wintergreen smell and taste.

River Birch (Betula nigra)

River birch is also a common species in the Northeast. Soil conditions determine this tree’s longevity. Acidic soils garner a 25-year lifespan versus the 15-year life expectancy of trees growing in alkaline soils. Not often damaged by birch borers, this tree has brownish-red curling bark.

Sweet birch, Black Birch, or Cherry Birch (Betula lenta)

Long-lived, sweet birch trees can survive for 250 years. This species rivals the yellow birch for wintergreen taste and smell. The sweet birch was the sole source for oil of wintergreen for many years. Another special attribute of this tree is that the wood will darken in color when exposed to air. The sweet birch’s dark brown bark reduces its susceptibility to bronze birch borer.

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