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Paper BirchBetula papyrifera

  • Paper Birch - Betula papyrifera
  • Paper Birch - Betula papyrifera
  • Paper Birch - Betula papyrifera

Beauty and romance may be the first images many people associate with the gleaming white paper birch. But this symbol of the North Country — and state tree of New Hampshire - has earned its place in history as a continuously useful tree that has served North Americans since the earliest days of human activity.

Today it is one of the best-loved trees of the New England landscape, planted often for the beauty of its distinctive bark and golden fall color.


Hardiness Zones

The paper birch can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 2–7. View Map

Tree Type

This tree is considered both a shade tree and an ornamental tree. It features a spreading canopy capable of blocking sunlight and adds visual interest and beauty to landscaping.

Mature Size

The paper birch grows to a height of 50–70' and a spread of around 35' at maturity.

Growth Speed Medium to Fast Growth Rate

This tree grows at a medium to fast rate, with height increases of anywhere from 13" to more than 24" per year.

Sun Preference

Full sun and partial shade are best for this tree, meaning it prefers a minimum of 4 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.

Soil Preference

The paper birch grows well in acidic, loamy, moist, sandy, well-drained and clay soils. While it prefers normal moisture, the tree has some drought tolerance.

Attributes

This tree:
  • Develops a smooth white bark that curls and peels (once mature).
  • Provides bright yellow fall color.
  • Features simple leaves that are 2–4" long, borne on leaf stems about 1" in length and medium green in color. Margins are double-toothed and leaves are arranged alternately.
  • Produces brown or green catkins in April and May.
  • Grows in an oval shape.
  • Yields very small seeds that are smooth and oval or elliptical in shape, nestled between two wings.

Wildlife Value

Wintering moose find the sheer abundance of paper birch in young stands important, despite the poor nutritional quality. White-tailed deer eat considerable amounts of paper birch leaves in the fall. Snowshoe hares browse paper birch seedlings and saplings, beavers find it a good second choice food and porcupines feed on the inner bark. Voles, shrews, Redpolls, siskins and chickadees eat the seeds. Numerous cavity-nesting birds nest in paper birch, including woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and swallows. Pecking holes in the bark, the yellow-bellied sapsucker finds the paper birch a favorite tree. Hummingbirds and red squirrels then feed at sapwells created by sapsuckers. Ruffed grouse eat the catkins (flowers) and buds.

History/Lore

The paper birch received its name from the nature of its bark. Long ago, people would peel layers of the thin, paper-like bark and write on it as a way to send messages. More descriptive names include white birch and canoe birch—recalling its favor among Native Americans and early fur trappers as a resource for sleek, sturdy, and lightweight watercraft.