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Betula lenta L.
Sweet birch, Cherry birch, Black birch, Mahogany birch
USDA Symbol: BELE
USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)
Sweet birch or cherry birch is a 50-75 ft. tree with brownish-black, cherry-like, scaly bark and reddish-brown stems. Conical in youth, the deciduous tree becomes ovoid to globular in maturity. Aromatic tree with rounded crown of spreading branches and odor of wintergreen in crushed twigs and foliage. Fall color is golden-yellow and the flower is a catkin that appears before leaf emergence.
Birch oil, or oil of wintergreen, used to flavor medicines and candy, was once obtained from the bark and wood of young trees. That wasteful process has been replaced by the manufacture of the same oil from wood alcohol and salicylic acid. The trees can be tapped like Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum) in early spring and the fermented sap made into birch beer. Of Canadas birches, sweet birch has the most dense wood. One cubic metre of air-dried wood weighs 656 kg. (Kershaw)
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial Habit: Tree Leaf Complexity: Simple Leaf:
Green Autumn Foliage:
Green Size Class:
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Red , Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Apr , May
, WV Canada: ON Native Distribution:
to n.e. OH,
s. though mts. to NC
& AL Native Habitat:
Rich, mountain woods; cool north & east slopes
Growing ConditionsWater Use:
Medium Light Requirement:
Part Shade , Shade Soil Moisture:
Dry , Moist Soil pH:
Acidic (pH<6.8) CaCO3 Tolerance:
Low Soil Description:
Rich, moist, well-drained soil. Conditions Comments:
Cherry birch is resistant to bronze birch borer, but like other birches is troubled by a number of problems. Exhibits the best fall color of the commonly cultivated birches, especially in the Midwest. Do not prune until summer when the sap
has stopped flowing.
Very high. Use Other:
has been a source of the commercial extract known as oil of wintergreen. In
taste, odor and chemical composition it is identical with the original wintergreen obtained from the plant of that name. A member of the same family as trailing arbutus. young and sapling trees were the preferred source, and it took about one hundred such to produce a single quart of the oil. The country folk sold the oil by the quart to storekeepers, who passed it on to the wholesale druggists, and these in turn refined it and used it to flavour drugs, medicines, and candy. (Peattie) Interesting Foliage:
PropagationDescription: Seeds have low viability. Germination is facilitated by exposure to light; never plant too deeply.
Seed Collection: Birch seed is collected by picking the catkins while they are still green enough to hold together. They shatter easily and should be put directly into bags.
Seed Treatment: One month cold stratification compensates for light treatment.
Commercially Avail: yes
Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)
is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
National Wetland Indicator Status
This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1
(Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here
for map of regions.
Record Last Modified: 2014-04-03
Research By: TWC Staff