River Birch – Betula nigra

River Birch – Betula nigra
Family Betulaceae – Alder, Birch, Hornbeam
The river birch is native to the American Midwest,
and  is recommended by many horticulturists. 

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River Birch - Betula nigra

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.

River Birch foliage

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.

River Birch - Betula nigra

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 bark

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. Our specimens include river birch, Dahurian birch, paper birch, Arctic birch, Manchurian birch, Manchurian alder, downy birch, Japanese white birch, and 10 other species.
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