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River BirchBetula nigra

  • River Birch - Betula nigra
  • River Birch - Betula nigra
  • River Birch - Betula nigra
  • River Birch - Betula nigra

As its name suggests, the river birch naturally grows along river banks. 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.

Hardiness Zones

The river birch can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 4–9. 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 river birch grows to a height of 40–70' and a spread of 40–60' 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 river birch grows well in acidic, loamy, moist, sandy, well-drained, wet and clay soils. It will tolerate moderate flooding as well as some drought.


This 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.
  • Develops a cinnamon-colored bark that curls and peels (once mature).
  • Can grow as either a single- or multi-stemmed tree.
  • 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.

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.