WSU Clark County Extension

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River Birch

Scientific name: Betula nigra

Type:Deciduous tree
Plant Requirements
Zone:4 to 9
Plant Characteristics
Height:50 ft
Width:30 ft
Bloom:Spring flowers
Bloom Time:April to May
Bloom Color:Green
Additional Characteristics



Wildlife value

Description River birch is a fast growing ornamental landscape tree noted for its exfoliating flaky bark in various mixed shades of cream, orange and lavender, nice fall color, and freedom from bronze birch borer damage.

River birch is native to the eastern United States growing from the northeast states, south to Florida and west to Minnesota. Here on the west coast it grows to a mature height and width of 40’ to 70’, developing a spreading, rounded shape. It bears leaves 1.5”–3” long leaves which are simple, ovate, and arranged alternately on the stems. The leaf edges are conspicuously doubly serrated, and have wedge-shaped bases. Their topsides are medium to dark green and lustrous in color. When the wind blows the silvery-colored undersides are exposed. In the fall the leaves turn a pleasing golden-yellow to yellow-brown color.

The exfoliating bark on this birch species sets it apart in the landscape. Over time the bark will show a whole host of colors, including orange, gray, lavender and salmon. Older trees display coarse scales.

In its native habitat, river birch grows well in low and medium elevations and is most common along streams. River birch is at home on somewhat poorly drained to well drained soils making it an easy choice for riparian buffers throughout the range of the species. It prefers slightly acidic soils. In the trade the cultivar ‘Heritage’ is one of the more popular variants, as it has lighter bark and light green glossy leaves.

River birch has no serious insect pests and is considered borer resistant.
For assistance, contact Dr. Charles Brun (, (360) 397-6060 5701
Computing and Web Resources, PO Box 6234, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-6234