River Birch

Betula nigra L.



All photographs are copyrighted and are the property of E. Brunner.

Family:  Betulaceae

Native or Introduced to Illinois:  native

Natural Habit in Illinois:  bottomland woods

Leaf:  Alternate, simple, pinnately-veined, rhombic to ovate, 1 1/2 to 3 inches long, obviously doubly serrate, with a wedge-shaped base; green above, paler and fuzzy below.

Flower:  Preformed aments, male near the end of the twig, 2 to 3 inches long. Female catkins upright, 1/4 to 1/2 inch long. Flowering in early spring.

Fruit:  Cone like, 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, with many hairy scales, containing tiny, 3-winged seeds.

Twig:   Slender, orangish-brown in color, smooth or slightly pubescent, with the terminal bud absent. Lateral buds may be slightly pubescent. No wintergreen odor when cut.

Bark:  Smooth on young trees, salmon to rust colored. On older trees, developing papery scales, exfoliating horizontally with several colors (creamy to orangish-brown) visible. Later developing coarse scales.

Size/Form/Shape:   River birch is a deciduous medium to large-sized native tree.

County Distribution Map for Illinois:  


Sources for the Sullivan Middle School Tree Identification Guide were obtained though the use of the following sites:

The information below is from the National Arbor Day Foundation.  This information can be viewed in the original (source) form by visiting The National Arbor Day Foundation at http://www.arborday.org.

Sun Exposure:  This birch does well in partial shade to full sun.
Soil Type:  The River Birch grows in acidic, loamy, moist, clay, sandy, wet, well-drained, wide range of soils.
Moisture:  While it will tolerate moderate flooding, it also has some drought resistance.
Growth Rate:  This tree grows at a medium to fast growth rate.

Hardiness Zones:  4 - 9
This birch can be expected to grow in the zones shown in color in the arborday.org zone map.