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Betula papyrifera (Paper birch)
Vick, Albert F. W.

Betula papyrifera

Betula papyrifera Marshall

Paper Birch, Canoe Birch, White Birch

Betulaceae (Birch Family)


USDA Symbol: bepa

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), AK (N), CAN (N), SPM (N)

A characteristic deciduous tree of the Northwoods, paper birch is a 50-75 ft. single- or multi-trunked tree with conspicuous, white, peeling bark. Loosely pyramidal in youth, the tree develops an irregular, rounded crown in maturity. Bright green leaves turn yellow in fall. One of the most beautiful native trees, with narrow, open crown of slightly drooping to nearly horizontal branches; sometimes a shrub.

Paper Birch is used for specialty products such as ice cream sticks, toothpicks, bobbins, clothespins, spools, broom handles, and toys, as well as pulpwood. Indians made their lightweight birchbark canoes by stretching the stripped bark over frames of Northern White-cedar (Thuja occidentalis), sewing it with thread from Tamarack (Larix laricina) roots, and caulking the seams with pine or Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea or A. concolor) resin. Souvenirs of birch bark should always be from a fallen log, since stripping bark from living trees leaves permanent ugly black scars.


From the Image Gallery

23 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 75 feet tall.
Leaf: Green.
Fruit: Brown.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Apr


USA: AK , CO , CT , IA , ID , IL , IN , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MT , NC , ND , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OR , PA , RI , SD , TN , VA , VT , WA , WI , WV , WY
Canada: AB , BC , MB , NB , NL , NS , NT , ON , PE , QC , SK , YT
Native Distribution: Nf. & Lab. to AK, s. to NJ, VA mts., n.e. IN, WY & n.e. OR
Native Habitat: Low, wet areas; moist hillsides; stream banks

Growing Conditions

Water Use: High
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Moist, fertile, cool soils.
Conditions Comments: Paper birch is sensitive to disease and insects, especially the bronze birch borer, under unfavorable growing conditions. The species requires cool summers where average July temperatures are below 70 degrees. Do not prune until summer when the sap has stopped flowing. More tolerant of high pH than river birch. Short-lived. The species white bark achieves maximum ornamental value with a dark background of pine, spruce and fir. Susceptible to Bronze Birch borer and Birch Dieback.


Use Wildlife: Songbirds, ground birds and mammals use this species.
Use Other: Many First Nations in BC use birch bark as material for baskets, cradles and canoes. They drink the sap as a medicine for colds. Birch wood furnished First Nations People with snowshoe frames. The bark served as a covering for the tepee or lodge. Rolled into a spill, it served as a taper or punk-stick to keep away mosquitoes. It made good paper for kindling a fire started first in punkwood of rotten Yellow Birch. (Peattie)
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Luna moth
(Actias luna)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
(Papilio glaucus)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA


Description: Fall sow in moist, sandy soil with germination occuring in the spring. Germination is facilitated by exposure to light; never plant too deeply. Cuttings can be rooted but must be allowed to go through a natural dormancy period before transplanting.
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.
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:

Natural Biodiversity - Johnstown, PA

Web Reference

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

From the Archive

Wildflower Newsletter 1994 VOL. 11, NO.1 - Winter Botanizing Using Stems, Director's Report, Welcome New Education Director...

Additional resources

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


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

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