Betula lenta L.
Sweet Birch, Cherry Birch, Black Birch, Mahogany Birch
Betulaceae (Birch Family)
USDA Symbol: BELE
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 That wasteful process has been replaced by the manufacture of the same oil from wood alcohol and salicylic acid.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 Canada's birches, sweet birch has the most dense wood. One cubic metre of air-dried wood weighs 656 kg. (Kershaw)
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Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Autumn Foliage: yes
Size Class: 72-100 ft.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Red , Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Apr , May
DistributionUSA: AL , CT , DE , GA , KY , MA , MD , ME , MS , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , SC , TN , VA , VT , WV
Native Distribution: S. ME through NY 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.
BenefitUse Wildlife: Very high.
Use Other: This tree 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: yes
Fragrant Foliage: yes
Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)
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Learn more at BAMONA
Adult Food Source
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
National Wetland Indicator Status
From the National Organizations DirectoryAccording to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Natural Biodiversity - Johnstown, PA
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE
BibliographyBibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 400 - Natural History of Trees of Eastern & Central North America (1991) Peattie, D.C. & P. H. Landacre
Bibref 1258 - Trees of Ontario (2007) Kershaw, Linda
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Additional resourcesUSDA: Find Betula lenta in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Betula lenta in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Betula lenta
MetadataRecord Modified: 2014-06-26
Research By: TWC Staff