Sweet Birch – Betula lenta

Sweet Birch – Betula lenta
Family Betulaceae – Alder, Birch, Hornbeam
Sweet birch, also called black or cherry birch, was at one time the only source of oil of wintergreen.  

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Sweet Birch Foliage

Sweet birch, also commonly referred to as black birch or cherry birch, was at one time the only source of oil of wintergreen. It is the aroma of wintergreen emanating from crushed leaves and broken twigs to which this birch owes its common name, sweet birch. Height: to 80 feet. Sweet Birch is long-lived as birches go, known to reach over 250 years.

The specific name, lenta, is derived from the tough yet flexible twigs that characterize the species. The wood is also unique. When exposed to air it darkens to a color resembling mahogany and, in times past, was used as an inexpensive substitute for the more valued tropical wood. Sweet birch is primarily a tree of the northeastern United States. It grows from southern Maine westward in southern Quebec, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and southeastern Ontario to eastern Ohio; and south in Pennsylvania through the Appalachian Mountains. Forest survey data indicate that sweet birch is most abundant in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania [2].

Sweet Birch

Sweet Birch, from seed, is 22 years old [1]
Flowering and Fruiting- Sweet birch flowers are monoecious and borne in catkins. Staminate catkins are formed in late summer or autumn and open in the spring after elongating to about 20 mm (0.75 in). Pistillate catkins appear with the leaves and are borne terminally on short, spurlike branches. Flowers open in April and May. Seeds ripen from about mid-August through mid-September and are contained in erect strobili.

Seed fall is during mid-September through November. Seed dispersal is normally by wind and seeds may be blown some distance over crusted snow. Nothing is known about quantities of seeds produced or how far they are spread. Seed production begins when trees are about 40 years old; large seed crops are produced every 1 or 2 years.

Small, glossy-green summer foliage turns yellow in fall exposing ornamental white bark. Does well in partial shade to full sun, likes moist, well-drained soils, sandy, loamy or clay, with a Ph range of 3.7 to 6.5 [2]

Sweet Birch Bark

Sweet birch wood is quite similar to yellow birch. Lumber and veneer of the two species often are not separated in the market, although production of yellow birch far exceeds that of sweet birch. Sweet birch is used for furniture, cabinets, boxes, woodenware, handles, and millwork, such as interior finish and flush doors. Paper pulp made from sweet birch is used in various amounts with other pulps to produce such products as boxboards, book and newsprint paper, paper toweling, and corrugated paper. Birch oil has been produced commercially from sweet birch bark, but its use has declined with the introduction of synthetic products.
1. Sweet birch, Morton Arboretum acc. 1-88-3 photos by Bruce Marlin
2. United States Department of Agriculture NRCS Plant Fact Sheet, Sweet birch
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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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