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Betula nigra L.
River birch, Red birch
USDA Symbol: BENI
USDA Native Status: L48 (N)
The gracefully branched river birch is a 30-50 ft., usually multi-trunked tree which can reach 90 ft. in height. Often slightly leaning and forked tree with irregular, spreading crown. A spreading crown of several large, ascending limbs support slightly weeping branches. The tree’s selling point is its satiny, silver bark that peels to reveal a cinnamon-brown trunk beneath. Fall foliage is yellow but seldom effective.
This is the southernmost New World birch and the only birch that occurs at low altitudes in the southeastern United States. Its ability to thrive on moist sites makes it useful for erosion control.
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial Habit: Tree Leaf Complexity: Simple Breeding System:
, Monoecious Leaf:
Green Autumn Foliage:
Tan brown Size Class:
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Feb , Mar
, WV Native Distribution:
to scattered New England localities, w. to e. TX
& s.e. MN Native Habitat:
Swamps, Flood plains, bottomland, Ditches, Ravines, Depressions, Stream, river banks
Growing ConditionsWater Use:
High Light Requirement:
Part Shade Soil Moisture:
Moist Soil pH:
Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2) CaCO3 Tolerance:
None Soil Description:
Sandy, moist soils. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay, Acid-based Conditions Comments:
River birch is fast growing and long-lived and is probably our most trouble-free birch. Do not prune until summer when the sap
has stopped flowing. Well-suited to areas that are periodically wet. Develops iron chlorosis on high pH soils. Chlorosis is more often due, however, to dryness. Trees is dry situations may defoliate, languish and die.
BenefitUse Ornamental: Attractive, Fall conspicuous, Fast growing
Use Wildlife: Seeds-granivorous birds, Browse, Seeds-Small mammals
PropagationDescription: Sow seed directly or stratify for spring planting. Germination is facilitated by exposure to light; never plant too deeply. Treated softwood cuttings stuck in peat:perlite and kept under continuous mist root well.
Seed Collection: Collect seeds as soon as the cones are full grown and beginning to turn brown but before they dry completely and open to disperse seeds. Spread to air dry until strobiles have opened. If storing, keep in sealed, refrigerated containers.
Seed Treatment: Stratify 30-60 days at 41 degrees.
Commercially Avail: yes
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: 2013-09-06
Research By: TWC Staff