Betula nigra L.
River Birch, Red Birch, Black Birch, Water Birch
Betulaceae (Birch Family)
USDA Symbol: BENI
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.
From the Image Gallery
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Fruit Type: Samara
Size Notes: Up to about 90 feet tall.
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Tan brown.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Feb , Mar
DistributionUSA: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , SC , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
Native Distribution: N. FL 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
Find Seed or Plants
View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.
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:
Texas Discovery Gardens - Dallas, TX
Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Crosby Arboretum - Picayune, MS
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
Georgia Native Plant Society - Atlanta, GA
Natural Biodiversity - Johnstown, PA
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE
BibliographyBibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees (1999) Simpson, B.J.
Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender
Search More Titles in Bibliography
Web ReferenceWebref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Additional resourcesUSDA: Find Betula nigra in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Betula nigra in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Betula nigra
MetadataRecord Modified: 2023-03-09
Research By: TWC Staff