Birches are very popular street trees, and take center stage in many front lawns. Birch trees are among the tallest elements in the landscape. Unlike conifers and other large trees, they do not develop the width the other trees do.They are tolerate of wet soils, where many other plants fail. The cones provide food for birds, and woodpeckers love to harvest insects from the birch bark.
Birches are tall trees reaching 40-to-70 feet. Their most interesting feature is their bark. Some species have very white bark, while others have tan, silver or cinnamon bark. They can be single or multi-trunked. The leaves are triangular and serrated, with deep venation. The are medium green in color, and range from 2 to 5 inches wide and long, depending on the species. All birch foliage will turn bright yellow in the fall. The flowers develop within elongated golden catkins that hang from the branch tips. Both male and female catkins form on the same tree. Birches also produce clusters of tiny brown cones.
Types of Birch
There are birches for different situations. The Himalayan white birch, (Betula jacquemontii) is popular because it develops white bark at a younger age. Many species do not develop their bark colors until they are more mature. The European weeping birch (Betula pendula) comes in many varieties when a weeping effect is desired. The native North American paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is noted for its peeling white bark. For cinnamon colored peeling bark try black birch (Betula nigra). There is even a dwarf 2- to 4-foot birch (Betula nana). Birches are hardy to USDA zones 3-to-5.
Birch trees prefer moist situations. Turf areas that receive summer water work well. They also prefer acidic soils. But they will tolerate soils with PH levels from 5.0 to 7.4. Most birches grow best in full sun. Birches are subject to the bronze birch borer. The level of susceptibility will vary with each species. Find out which birch trees are more resistant in your region. Healthy trees in optimal growing situations will better resist insect infestation.
Birches are tall, narrow trees. They work well in smaller landscapes needing vertical height. An example would be choosing a tree to mirror a two-story house. The leaves are small and tend to blow away in the wind. This means less raking. The bark creates winter interest in the landscape. Birches are a good choice for the native wildlife garden.
North America is home to several birch species. Europe and Asia also have native birch species. They are found in pure stands or groves, and also in mixed deciduous forests. They thrive along rivers, streams and in wetland areas. Birches are more common in regions with cooler temperatures, but can be found in the wetter regions of warm states such as Florida.