Did you know that out of 60 different species of Birch tree, at least 11 are endangered? The tree that symbolizes new life and renewal is in danger for its very existence.
It’s true. Threatened by pests, deforestation and other factors, the beautiful Birch tree, and in particular some types, are dwindling.
The guide outlines everything you ever wanted to know about Birch trees, including the distinctive birch tree leaves and seeds, and how you can help reduce the threat by planting and caring for one today.
- Family: Betulaceae
- Genus: Betula
- Leaf: Triangular or oval, with jagged edges, pointed tip
- Bark: Bark can be white, gray, or yellow, white or brown
- Seed: Catskins
- Fruit: Samara
- Habitat: North America, Europe, Asia
- Height: 40-70 feet
- Lifespan: 40-300 years
- Canopy: Wide rounded
- Type: Deciduous
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking
Although some Birch trees are more endangered than others, the following list shows some of the most common varieties of Birch Tree.
Types of Birch Trees
1. Bog Birch
This type of birch tree commonly thrives along swaps and streams. It can be as tall as 13 feet. It’s best to be added in rain gardens because it can withstand acidic and alkaline soil.
2. Cherry Birch
It has a striking similarity to the Cherry Tree due to its shiny reddish brown scales. It can be as tall as 70 feet and is popular because of its shade that can be as wide as 40 feet.
3. Chinese Red Birch
This birch tree can be as tall as 50 feet and originated in China. It can withstand drought. Its yellow green leaves have a matte texture and change into yellow during fall.
4. Downy Birch
Its bark can be churned into flour and is commonly used by the natives of Western Europe, Russia, and Iceland. This is grown in cold climates and can be as tall as 60 feet.
5. Dwarf Birch Tree
This type of birch tree enjoys the cold climate and can be as tall as just 3 feet. It is characteristically woody and extends out creating a soil cover during the cold temperature.
6. Erman’s Birch
This is popular for its dense foliage and is commonly planted on parks and used for landscapes. It can be as tall as 70 feet.
7. Gray Birch
Many consider this as just a tall shrub instead of a tree because it can only be as tall as 20 feet and has multiple trunks. Most people use this for home landscapes and is also commonly modified to be smaller in size so can be planted on smaller yards.
8. Himalayan Birch
(Betula utilis var. jacquemontii)
This is considered as the birch tree with the highest value because of its majestic appearance. It has strikingly white barks and is grown with a single trunk. This is a native to the West Himalayas and can grow up to 50 feet.
9. Japanese White Birch
This thrives better in cooler climates than warmer ones because it can be vulnerable to many tree diseases. It has long, slender, white branches and can be as tall as 50 feet. It is also called the Asian White Birch.
Facts About the Paper Bark, White Birch Tree
Birch trees are tough, they grow quickly and are ruggedly immune to a number of diseases and insects.
But, these trees perform a foundational part of many types of forest. In addition to preventing erosion, the birch canopy provides support for many other plant and animal species in the forest.
The seeds from the samara ‘fruit’ and bark of the tree are a source of nourishment for rabbits, deer, and birds.
Moreover, Birch trees are a coveted tree for cultivation. Offering stunning autumn colors and attractive bark, they are often used for gardening and aesthetic beauty.
Silver birch, known as Betula pendula, warty birch, European white birch, or East Asian white birch, is native to Europe and parts of Asia. It’s only found at higher altitudes In southern Europe.1
10. Paper Birch Tree
Probably the most widely recognized Birch tee, the Paper birch features the distinctive peeling white bark.
This type of birch tree can be as tall as 100 feet.
11. River Birch Tree
This is tolerant to drought and can be as tall as 70 feet. It grows so fast that it has become a popular tree for landscapes. It has salmon-like layers whenever its bark peels off.
12. Yellow Birch Tree
Aside from the fact that it can grow up to 80 feet, it can also live to as much as 300 years. The sap of this birch tree is commonly added as an ingredient which tastes like a root beer. It produces good lumber in North America.
13. Silver Birch Tree
It was once a very popular birch tree being used for landscapes but because of its vulnerability to the borer, it is now rarely used. It loves to grow on cold climates and can be as tall as 80 feet
14. Black Birch Tree
This tree smells of wintergreen, and is common in the Appalachian Mountain range, as well as northern Georgia. With a dark brown, to blackish colored bark, this tree can develop scaly horizontal plates on the trunk over time.2
15. Virginia Round Leaf Birch
This rare species is in the ICUN threatened list and is one of the most endangered species of trees in North America. A Native to the Shenandoah Valley, this species only lives about 50 years, and features black or brown bark and there are currently approximately 960 trees in the wild.
How to Identify Birch Trees
The birch tree has some unique characteristics, especially its bark, which make it one of the easiest trees to identify in the forest.
Here are some of the most common traits, regardless of species.
Birch Tree Leaves
The leaves are egg-shaped or triangular and have toothed margins. They grow in alternately arranged patterns on the branchlets. They’re bright green and turn yellow in autumn.
Birch Tree Bark
The birch tree bark characteristics are well known. It’s the tree that looks like the bark is peeling off… because it is!
It’s usually white, but can also be other colors, and on trees that are elders in the forest, the bark can come off in uneven slabs.
Birch Tree Flowers
The drooping male catkins flower before the leaves emerge; while the smaller, upright female catkins grow in clusters like cones. And they break apart when ‘ripe,’ spreading tiny little nuts that have wings.
Birch Fruit (Birch Tree Seeds)
The fruit is a small samara. The wings can be obscure in some varieties. They’re different from the alders in that the female catkins aren’t woody and break apart at maturity as they release the seeds.
Birch Tree Growth Chart
A healthy birch tree can survive healthily for hundreds of years, but the cultivated varieties may only live around 50 years.
A birch tree grows approximately 1.5-2 feet per year, depending on growing conditions. For example, a particularly dry spring and summer may reduce the growth rate.
|Birch Tree Age||Growth Height (Approximate)|
|1 Year||2 feet|
|2 Years||3.5 feet|
|3-5 Years||8 Feet|
|5-7 Years||12 feet|
|7-10 Years||19 feet|
|10-15 Years||30 feet|
|15-25 Years||50 Feet|
|25-50 Years||70 feet|
Birch Tree Vs Aspen: Aspen Tree Vs Birch Tree
There are some main differences between a Birch tree and an Aspen Tree. In the Black Hills of the US, both trees thrive in abundance, but the main difference is the bark.
Aspen trees have bark that tightly grips the trunk, while Birch trees, particularly the Paper Birch, have bark that peels off the trunk in layers.
In addition, Aspen tree leaves are heart shaped, characterized by their width, while Birch trees have an oval shaped leaf that has a point at the end. Another difference between the Birch and Aspen tree is that Aspen trees have a root system that can live for thousands of years, with seedlings sprouting from the roots.
Both trees have catkin clusters of seeds that are spread by the wind.
How to Grow a Birch Tree
You can grow a birch tree from a seed, but most people choose to plant a thriving seedling. Growing tips include:
- Choose a location with at least 6 hours a day of full sunlight.
- Make sure to mulch your Birch seedlings, since the roots grow relatively close to the surface of the ground, and can get scorched until the full canopy of the tree is able to shade them properly.
- Follow tree planting best practices about digging the hole and staking the seedling.
- Make sure that your young birch tree is watered regularly. A perforated hose is a great investment to ensure its survival.
- Check the soil dampness regularly. Birch trees need moist soil.
Birch Tree Diseases (How To Care for Birch Trees)
When caring for a maturing Birch tree, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Pune dead and unhealthy branches each year to reduce the stress placed on the trunk.
Check your tree for signs of insect infestation, especially the Birch borer and leafminer, as well as aphids.
You’ll notice aphid infestation if the undersides of the leaves look like they have sap on them, which attracts ants.
Where to Buy Birch Trees
When choosing a birch tree seedling to buy, it’s always a good idea to start with local growers and nurseries.
There are a number of benefits to buying locally, and reducing your carbon footprint is just one of them. When you buy a birch tree locally, you not only support your community, but you significantly reduce the emissions related to the purchase.
Moreover, buying from a local grower, as opposed to buying a birch tree from home depot, allows you to choose a species that is already climate hardened to your area, so there’s less risk that the seedling won’t survive. It’s likely that a local gardener or gardening agency may grow saplings as well that you can purchase or accept.
Folklore, Significance and Medicinal Qualities of Birch Tree
Considered a pioneer species for its ability to survive despite devastation, Birch trees are connected to growth and renewal.
Celtic groups considered it special within their mythology, symbolizing good fortune and protection against evil, and Native Americans also considered it a protective and guiding species of tree. 
Birch trees that grow in the Eastern U.S. are valuable contributors to humankind. Paper birches got their name from the paper-like appearance of the mature trees’ white bark, which was used by many Native American tribes to weave baskets, arrow quivers, and canoes.
Native Americans along the eastern seaboard selected a paper birch tree and carved two cuts on the bark of the tree from opposite sides. The bark would peel come spring. The tribes cut away both sides of the bark and formed the two halves of the canoe. They also used the bark to homes, buckets for collecting maple or birch sap, dishes, trays, and coffins.
All birch barks, especially paper or a yellow birch, are great fire starters. You can quickly light a fire by using the outer bark of most birch trees.
Slices of birch bark are a regular component in natural fire-starting kits, like those that include flint and steel. Birch bark will burn even when the wood is fresh or wet, thus ideal for survival situations.
The wood of some varieties of birch trees is pale and soft grained and excellent for indoor decorative and veneer uses.
Yellow birch wood is popular for use in a variety of applications like flooring, toothpicks, furniture, and cabinets. When purchasing birchwood for your residence, you’re most likely buying yellow birch wood.3
How Much Carbon Does Birch Tree Sequester?
Silver birch is capable of absorbing up to 3100 kilos of CO2 to clean the air.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Birch Tree
Is a Birch Tree a Good Tree?
The Birch tree offers a large canopy and beautiful fall colors, making it a favorite for many gardeners and homeowners.
Where Do Birch Trees Grow Best?
Birch trees thrive in growing zones that are cooler, from 2-9, depending on the species and type.
Do Birch Trees Grow Fast?
The Birch is a relatively fast growing tree, gaining about two feet every year.
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1birch | Description, Tree, Major Species, & Facts. (2022). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from <https://www.britannica.com/plant/birch>
2Nguyen, Q. (2022). How Sustainable Is Birch Wood? Here Are the Facts. Impactful Ninja. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from <https://impactful.ninja/how-sustainable-is-birch-wood/>
3Sweet, H. (2022). Birch, Extremely Versatile with a Tasty Wintergreen Flavoring. Eat The Planet. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from <https://eattheplanet.org/birch-extremely-versatile-with-a-tasty-wintergreen-flavoring/>
4Image Source: <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/>
5Image Source: <https://extension.unh.edu/blog/2022/07/fun-facts-about-yellow-birch-new-hampshire>
6Image Source: <http://vaplantatlas.org/index.php>