Betula lenta

Common Name: sweet birch 
Type: Tree
Family: Betulaceae
Native Range: Eastern North America
Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 40.00 to 75.00 feet
Spread: 35.00 to 40.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Green to pale yellow catkins
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Shade Tree, Naturalize
Flower: Insignificant
Leaf: Fragrant, Good Fall
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Clay Soil, Shallow-Rocky Soil


Best grown in rich, evenly moist, acidic, well-draining soils in full sun to part shade. Avoid pruning in spring when the sap is flowing. Best for climates with cool summers and on north or east facing slopes. Tolerant of clay soils and shallow, rocky soils. Intolerant of heavily compacted soils and urban conditions. Hardy in Zones 3-8.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Betula lenta, commonly called sweet birch, cherry birch, or black birch, is a medium to large, deciduous tree native to moist, cool, forested slopes as well as rockier, more exposed areas from the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada to the southern extent of the Appalachian Mountains. Mature trees will reach up to 75' tall in the wild but are more likely to only reach 40-50' tall in cultivation with a 35-40' spread. Young trees have a dense, pyramidal growth habit which opens up and becomes more rounded with age. The bark of young trees is smooth and brown to nearly black with horizontal lenticles. As the tree ages the bark becomes more grey and furrowed with irregular, scaly plates that do not peel. The ovate foliage has finely toothed margins and will reach 2.5-6" long and 1.5-3.5" wide. Exhibits excellent, bright yellow fall color. The twigs, bark, and foliage of this plant have a strong wintergreen odor when crushed. The pendulous, male catkins are held on the twig ends through winter before elongating to 3" long during their early spring bloom. The upright, 1" long female catkins bloom from early to mid spring and mature to form cone-like structures that persist into winter. The fruits are small, winged nutlets that disperse in fall and are eaten by birds and small mammals. This tree is a host plant for mourning cloak, dreamy duskywing, green comma, and white admiral butterflies as well as many moth species including cecropia silk moth.

Genus name is the Latin name for birch.

The specific epithet lenta means "tough" or "pliable", in reference to the flexible yet strong twigs of this species.

The common name sweet birch refers to the strong wintergreen odor produced by the leaves, twigs, and bark of this species when crushed. The common name cherry birch refers to the superficial resemblance of the bark of young trees to that of wild black cherry (Prunus serotina). The common name black birch refers to the dark colored bark of young trees.


Like other birches, sweet birch is susceptible to a wide range of pest and disease issues, including aphids, birch skeletonizer, birch leafminer, canker, leaf spot, and leaf rust. Reportedly resistant to bronze birch borer.


Best in parks, as a lawn specimen, or allowed to naturalize on a woodland edge. The strong, heavy wood is used for flooring, trim, furniture, cabinets, and tool handles, but is not readily distinguishable from yellow birch in the lumber market. Oil of wintergreen can be extracted from all parts of the tree and was a valuable commodity for use in medicine and as a food and beverage flavoring. Synthetic oil of wintergreen is now widely used for commercial applications. The sap can be tapped in a similar fashion to maples and can be fermented to create birch beer or boiled to make birch syrup.