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Betula nigra (River birch)
Brundage, Stephanie

Betula nigra

Betula nigra L.

River Birch, Red Birch, Black Birch, Water Birch

Betulaceae (Birch Family)


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.


From the Image Gallery

36 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
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.
Leaf: Green.
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Tan brown.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Feb , Mar


USA: 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 Conditions

Water 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.


Use Ornamental: Attractive, Fall conspicuous, Fast growing
Use Wildlife: Seeds-granivorous birds, Browse, Seeds-Small mammals
Attracts: Birds


Description: 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

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.

From the National Organizations Directory

According 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


Bibref 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 Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.

Additional resources

USDA: Find Betula nigra in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Betula nigra in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Betula nigra


Record Modified: 2023-03-09
Research By: TWC Staff

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