Medium, deciduous, North American tree
Description: Exfoliating reddish-brown bark that reveals smooth, pale inner bark; green female and brown male catkins in spring; 2-3” glossy green leaves turn yellow in fall
Habit: Grows up to 70’ high as a single trunk tree or closer to 50’ as a multi-trunked specimen; fast-growing; more heat-tolerant than other birches
Culture: Prefers full sun to partial shade and medium to wet soils
Hardiness: Cold hardy to USDA Zone 4
Native to streambanks, floodplains, and other moist areas of the eastern United States, the River Birch is notable for its distinctive exfoliating bark and ability to withstand higher temperatures, unlike other native birch species. Betula nigra was included in both Bartram’s Catalogue of American Trees, Shrubs, and Herbacious Plants (1783) and as a native tree “useful for fabrication” in Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1780s). The hard, strong, close-grained wood was once used for furniture-making and wooden objects such as ox yokes and hoops for rice casks.