For the most part, the native birches in North America grow in the cooler parts of the continent (Canada and northern U.S.). Many birches are more than suitable for ornamental usages, as these trees do not grow to unmanageable heights and have many features that make them appealing. Some of the landscaping birches are introduced species from other countries. In many instances, the bark of a birch tree is among its best aspects.
European White Birch
The flaky bark of the European white birch is “eye-catching,” according to the Floridata website. The bark is white but turns blackened as the tree matures, peeling into strips on the trunk. European white birch is native to western Siberia, Russia and Europe, but is a widely-used ornamental in Canada and sections of the United States. The tree possesses a pyramid shape when young that gradually turns into a rounded form. The tree grows between 40 and 50 feet high and works as a specimen tree by itself in the open or when planted in small clusters. The European white birch needs sunlight when young, but once established can grow in partial shade. It requires moist ground. The tree will not do well in warm climates, so avoid trying to use this species anywhere that has hot springs and summers.
The gray birch has brownish bark when immature, but that will change as the tree ages, with the bark becoming a chalky white color covered with horizontal markings known as lenticels. Triangular patches of black will also develop beneath the areas of the trunk from which branches emerge. Gray birch bark does not peel easily as the bark of many birch species does, and although other birches may be more picturesque, the gray birch will grow in some of the poorest soils on your property. That makes it a possibility for areas that usually are hard to plant on.
Gray birch can grow to be from 20 to 40 feet high, according to the University of Connecticut Plant Database website. It has a narrow, cone-shaped crown. The leaves are dark green, emerge early in the spring and change to shades of yellow in autumn. Gray birch will lose branches during heavy snows and ice storms.
The yellow birch is another potential ornamental for colder climates. This birch has an interesting type of bark that exfoliates, or peels, forming thin shreds on the trunk. Yellow birch bark is a bronze to yellow color and gives the tree an attractive look even in the dead of winter. Yellow birch grows up to 80 feet high, so it may require an open space where it can fully develop. Yellow birch has oval leaves that change to gold in fall. The tree needs full sun, moist ground and is not very tolerant of dry conditions. When you take the twigs of a yellow birch tree and rub them or break them, you will smell a wintergreen aroma. The shade produced by a yellow birch is light. In the wild, this species is one of the first to begin to colonize areas burned out by fires.