Betula pendula

Tried and Trouble-free Recommended by 1 Professionals
Common Name: European white birch
Type: Tree
Family: Betulaceae
Native Range: Europe, Asia
Zone: 2 to 6
Height: 30.00 to 40.00 feet
Spread: 15.00 to 30.00 feet
Bloom Time: March to April
Bloom Description: Yellowish brown (male) & green (female)
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: High
Suggested Use: Rain Garden
Flower: Showy
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Deer

Culture

In St. Louis, European white birch is best grown in medium to wet, well-drained sandy or rocky loams in full sun to part shade. Although it prefers full sun in its native habitat, in St. Louis, it is best sited in a northern or eastern exposure that receives some afternoon shade. It needs consistently moist soils. Consider using soaker hoses and bark mulches to keep the root zones cool and moist. Tolerates some dry soils, but is best in consistently moist ones. It needs little pruning, but if necessary, prune during the dormant season. Avoid pruning in spring when the sap is running. Performs best in cool northern climates where summer temperatures rarely exceed 75 degrees F. and where root zones are generally covered with snow throughout the winter.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Betula pendula, commonly called European white birch or white birch, is native to Europe and Asia Minor where it typically occurs in wood margins, heaths, hills and slopes. It has been widely planted in Canada and the northern U.S. as an ornamental. As is the case with paper birch (B. papyrifera), this tree is noted for its white bark, which exfoliates in papery strips. It is also noted for its drooping or pendulous branches, hence the specific epithet. Mature trees become furrowed and blackish-gray near the bottom of the trunk. It is a small to medium sized tree that typically grows to 30-40’ (less frequently to 60’) tall with a pyramidal to oval rounded crown. Ovate, glabrous, toothed, glossy green leaves (to 2.5” long) have long tapered tips. Greenish-yellow fall color is usually undistinguished. Tiny monoecious flowers appear in early spring in separate catkins on the same tree: yellowish-brown male flowers in drooping catkins (to 2.5” long) and greenish female flowers in smaller, upright catkins (to 1 1/4” long). Female flowers are followed by drooping cone-like fruits containing numerous small winged seeds that typically mature in late summer.

Genus name is the Latin name for birch.

Specific epithet means hanging.

Problems

This species of birch grows poorly and is generally short-lived in the St. Louis climate. It thrives in cool northern summers, but does poorly in the heat and humidity of St. Louis. Weakened birches become very vulnerable to the bronze birch borer which, in the St. Louis area, typically infects and kills trees that are stressed by summer heat and humidity. Although European white birches have some susceptibility to aphids, leaf miner, birch skeletonizer and dieback, these problems are somewhat minor in comparison to the birch borer.

Garden Uses

Not recommended for the St. Louis climate. River birch (see Betula nigra) is a better selection for St. Louis. In cool northern climates, European white birch is an excellent small landscape tree that displays a graceful drooping form and mixes well with evergreens.