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River Birch

Betula nigra

Hardiness Zones: 4 - 9   View Map
  • Develops a cinnamon-colored bark that curls and peels (once mature)
  • Can grow as either a single- or multi-stemmed tree
  • Features glossy green leaves that are 2–3" long and somewhat triangular; margins are double-toothed and leaves are arranged alternately
  • Produces brown and green catkins in April and May
  • Yields a large number of tiny nutlets after female catkins mature, typically in May and June
  • Is the most borer-resistant birch
  • Works well for holding stream banks and keeping erosion in check
  • Grows in an oval shape
  • Should not be planted in very alkaline soil

Tree Details



Growth Speed

Medium to Fast

Scientific Name

Betula nigra

Mature Height

40' - 70'

Mature Spread

40' - 60'

Shipping Height

3' - 4'


As its name suggests, the river birch naturally grows along riverbanks. But as a landscape tree, it can be planted almost anywhere in the U.S. The species is valued for its relatively rapid growth, tolerance of wetness and some drought, unique curling bark, spreading limbs, and relative resistance to birch borer.

The river birch has not yet reached the popularity of many maples and oaks, but it is well on its way. In 2002, one of its cultivars was even named the Urban Tree of the Year by the Society of Municipal Arborists.

Sun Preference

Full Sun, Partial Sun/Shade

Soil Preference

Acidic, Clay, Drought, Loamy, Moist, Sandy, Well Drained, Wet

Wildlife Value

The catkins of the River Birch are used by redpolls and pine siskins. The foliage is eaten by deer and other browsers. The small but plentiful seeds are appreciated by a wide range of songbirds.


River birch wood was once used for ox yokes, wooden shoes and other products around the farm. But they were rather distained by loggers as knotty and spindly, therefore often left to grow along the river bank to control erosion.

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