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Betula pendula
Betula pendula

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Zone
Zones 1-24, 26, 28-43
Full Sun
Full
Regular Water
Moderate

Betula nigra

River Birch, Red Birch
Betulaceae
Deciduous, Trees

BETULA

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, 40–60 ft. wide. Trunk often forks near 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.

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