Betula nigra

Tried and Trouble-free Recommended by 4 Professionals
Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: river birch
Type: Tree
Family: Betulaceae
Native Range: Eastern United States
Zone: 4 to 9
Height: 40.00 to 70.00 feet
Spread: 40.00 to 60.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Brown (male) green (female)
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Shade Tree, Rain Garden
Flower: Showy
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Deer, Drought, Clay Soil, Wet Soil, Air Pollution

Culture

Easily grown average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. River birch is perhaps the most culturally adaptable and heat tolerant of the birches. Prefers moist, acidic, fertile soils including semi-aquatic conditions, but also tolerates drier soils. Adapts well to heavy clay soils of Missouri and will tolerate poor drainage. Avoid pruning in spring when the sap is running.

Noteworthy Characteristics

River birch is a vigorous, fast-growing, medium-sized, Missouri native deciduous tree which occurs on floodplains, swampy bottomlands and along streams throughout the State. In cultivation, it can be trained as either a single trunk or multi-trunked tree. As a single trunk tree, it develops a pyramidal habit when young, but matures to a more rounded shape typically growing 40-70' tall. Multi-trunked trees form a more irregular crown and are generally considered to be the superior growth habit for this species. Salmon-pink to reddish brown bark exfoliates to reveal lighter inner bark. Leathery, diamond-shaped, medium to dark green leaves (1.5-3.5" long) with doubly toothed margins turn yellow in fall. Monoecious flowers appear in drooping, brownish male catkins and smaller, upright, greenish female catkins.

Problems

One of the most disease-free birches. Most species of birch grow best in cool, northern climates, but do not adapt well to the hot summers of USDA Zones 5-9 and can be short-lived therein. Weakened birches become vulnerable to the bronze birch borer which typically infects and kills birches stressed by summer heat and humidity. River birches are Missouri natives that are naturally adapted to the climate and are extremely resistant to birch borer. Although river birches have some susceptibility to aphids, leaf miner and iron chlorosis in high pH soils, these problems are somewhat minor in comparison to the birch borer. 'Heritage' is a very popular river birch cultivar with superior ornamental features to the species (see Betula nigra 'Curly' HERITAGE).

Garden Uses

Specimen or small groupings for lawns, parks and commercial properties, and, in particular, for wet soils along ponds, streams or in low spots. Good choice for the St. Louis area and generally a good substitute for the paper birch in the hot and humid areas of USDA Zones 5-9.