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Betula nigra ‘Dura-Heat’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)
Betula nigra ‘Dura-Heat’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)

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Zone
Zones vary by species.
Full Sun
Full
Regular Water
Moderate

Betula

Birch
Betulaceae
Deciduous, Trees

The white-barked European white birch—the tree that comes to mind when most people think of birches—has many relatives that resemble it in graceful habit, thin bark peeling in layers, and smallish, fine-toothed leaves that turn from green to glowing yellow in fall. After leaf drop, the delicate limb structure, handsome bark, and small conelike fruits provide a winter display.

All birches need a regular supply of moisture and nutrients; they are generally too greedy for lawns. Nor should they be planted on a patio or where cars will be parked beneath them, since they are all susceptible to aphids that drip honeydew. Bronze birch borer can be a problem in the northern Rocky Mountain states; leaf miners in the Pacific Northwest. Pruned established trees just to remove weak, damaged, or dead growth. To minimize sap bleed, prune in summer or early fall in mild-winter areas; where temperatures remain below freezing, wait until the end of January.

Betula nigra ‘Summer Cascade’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)
Betula nigra ‘Summer Cascade’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)

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Betula nigra

Native to stream banks and lowlands in eastern North America. Very fast growth in early years; eventually becomes a pyramidal tree 50–90 ft. tall and 40–60 ft. wide. Trunk often forks near the ground, but the tree can be trained to a single stem. Young bark is pinkish, very smooth, and shiny; on older trees, bark flakes and curls in cinnamon brown to blackish sheets. Diamond-shaped leaves are 1–3 in. long, bright glossy green above with silvery undersides. This is the most trouble-free birch.

‘Dura-Heat’ resists bronze birch borer and is more compact and heat-tolerant than the species. ‘Heritage’ is an excellent selection that has lighter-colored bark and resists bronze birch borer. ‘Summer Cascade’ is the first weeping birch that resists birch borer. Grows to 15 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide.

Betula occidentalis (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)
Betula occidentalis (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)

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Betula occidentalis

Native to stream banks from Alaska to Oregon, east to Colorado. Shrubby; usually grows to 12–15 ft. tall and wide. Smooth, shiny, cinnamon brown bark. Ovate leaves 2 in. long.

Betula papyrifera (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)
Betula papyrifera (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)

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Betula papyrifera

Native to the northern part of North America. Similar to Betula pendula but larger growing (to 50–90 ft. tall, half as wide), with 4-in.-long leaves that are less densely borne; habit is more open, less weeping. More resistant to borer, leaf miners. Creamy white bark peels off in papery layers.

Betula pendula
Betula pendula

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Betula pendula

Native from Europe to Asia Minor, this birch has a delicate, lacy appearance, with upright main branches and weeping side branches. An average mature tree is 30–40 ft. tall, spreading to half its height. Bark on twigs and young branches is golden brown; as trees mature, bark on trunk and main limbs becomes white, marked with black clefts. Oldest bark (at base of tree) is blackish gray. Glossy, rich green leaves to 2 1/2 in. long are diamond shaped, with a slender, tapered point. Often sold as weeping birch, although trees vary somewhat in habit, and young trees show little inclination to weep. Very prone to borer attack.

Betula utilis jacquemontii (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)
Betula utilis jacquemontii (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)

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Betula utilis jacquemontii

Native to northern India. Tall, narrow tree with brilliant white bark. Grows about 2 ft. a year to 40 ft., then more slowly to an eventual 60 ft. tall and 30 ft. wide. Seedlings vary in bark color from white to pinkish tan; for guaranteed white bark, look for grafted trees. Some borer resistance.

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