Paper Birch Tree Characteristics

The paper birch tree is a fast-growing, deciduous tree that reaches a maximum height of 100 feet. The trunk is slender and straight and the conical tree is found from coast to coast in northern latitudes and mountains in North America, making it the most widespread of the American birches. The tree is cultivated for its bark and foliage.


Native Americans used the bark of this tree to cover their canoes after finding it impervious to water, according to "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees of the World," by Tony Russell, Catherine Cutler and Martin Walters. Because of this, the paper birch is also known as the canoe birch. The bark is creamy white with dark, horizontal lines; underneath, there is an orange-pink underbark.


The leaves of the paper birch as classified as alternate, simple leaves, meaning they are attached to the branch in alternating arrangement, according to the National Wildlife Federation's "Field Guide to Trees of North America." The oval leaves are 2 to 5 inches long with coarse, double-tooth edges, and between five and nine pairs of veins run through each. The leaves are dull green, with paler green underneath, and turn bright yellow in the fall.

Flowers and Fruit

The male catkins, or flower clusters, are 1 1/2 to 4 inches long and appear in clusters of two or three in the early spring before the leaves bud, according to the National Geographic "Field Guide to the Trees of North America." The female catkins are smaller, 1 to 1 1/2 inches long and appear in clusters of two. The fruit is a brown, cylindrical cluster, 3/8 to 1 inch in length, that appears on the tree in autumn.

Keywords: paper birch, birch trees, birch bark

About this Author

Caroline Fritz has over 17 years of writing and editing experience, mainly for publications in Northwest Ohio. She is currently an editor for a national technical magazine focusing on the construction industry. She has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH.