River Birch - Betula nigra
Family Betulaceae - Alder, Birch, Hornbeam
The river birch is native to the American midwest, and is recommended by many experts.
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The river birch is a large deciduous tree, growing 90 feet in height and spreading 30 to 50 feet. It grows at a medium to rapid rate, 30 to 40 feet over a 20-year period. It lives only 30 to 40 years on many urban sites, possibly due to a shortage of water. River birches situated in moist areas live longer.

Birch grows in climates ranging from boreal to humid and tolerates wide variations in precipitation. Its northern limit of growth is arctic Canada and Alaska, in boreal spruce woodlands, in mountain and sub alpine forests of the western United States, the Great Plains, and in coniferous - deciduous forests of the Northeast and Great Lakes states.

Unlike other kinds of birch tree, the fruits of the River Birch mature in the spring following flowering. The trunk of this tree often is short, branching into several large limbs that grow upward. The bark of younger trees is pinkish to reddish brown. When older it is shaggy and silver-gray to black. The River Birch favors moist soils and typically is found growing on stream banks and in swampy lowlands. In her book on The Woody Plants of Ohio, Lucy Braun calls this a "semi-aquatic species" since it can survive flooding for several weeks at a time. This tree grows throughout most of the eastern United States and westward to eastern Oklahoma and eastern Texas. It is more common in the South, where it is the only birch tree that is found at low altitudes.  although not of great commercial importance, manufacturers sometimes use it for furniture and woodenware. It also is planted for its ornamental value and is very effective in preventing stream bank erosion.

River Birch Leaves
Animals dependant on Birch
  • Moose: Important browse throughout most of range. Nutritional quality is poor in winter, but is important to wintering moose because of its sheer abundance in young stands.
  • White-tailed Deer: though considered a "secondary-choice food", it is an important dietary component. In Minnesota, white-tailed deer eat considerable amounts of birch leaves in the fall.
  • Snowshoe hare browse birch seedlings and saplings.
  • Porcupines feed on the inner bark
  • Beaver also eat it though generally prefer aspen, while willow and paper birch are second choice foods.
  • Voles and shrews eat the seeds.
  • Numerous birds and small mammals eat paper birch buds, catkins and seeds.
  • Young paper birch stands provide prime deer and moose cover.


  • Numerous cavity-nesting birds nest in birch, including woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, and swallows.
  • A favorite feeding tree of yellow-bellied sapsuckers, which peck holes in the bark to feed on the sap. Hummingbirds and red squirrels also feed at sap wells in paper birch created by sapsuckers.
  • Ruffed grouse eat the catkins and buds.
  • Redpolls, siskins, and chickadees obtain a considerable portion of their annual diet from birch seeds
River Birch Tree

Separate male and female flowers are borne on the same tree; the male in the form of a catkin, and the female in cone-like clusters that fall from the tree and are blown for long distances by the wind. In the fall, the foliage turns pale yellow.

The graceful elegance of the birch allows it to be used as a specimen or for naturalizing, and is best used in large areas. It transplants easily and is most effective when planted in groupings. A multi-trunk specimen is more handsome than single-trunk trees. It should not be planted in high-use areas such as driveways, walks and patios, as dead branches tend to be messy. Periodic pruning is required to remove these branches; this can be done at any time of year. Although the river birch thrives in wet areas, it does not require excessive amounts of water. It tolerates fairly dry soils once it is established, but will not live as long. It requires acidic soils, suffering from iron deficiency if pH levels are 6.5 or higher.

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Family Betulaceae - Alder, Birch, Hornbeam
The birches have long been popular ornamental trees in North America, chiefly in the northern United States and Canada. Several are native Americans, but many species have been introduced from Europe and Asia. Our specimens include river birch, Dahurian birch, paper birch, Arctic birch, Manchurian birch, Manchurian 10 other species.
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