Birch trees are medium size trees with thin, pealing bark. Size matters when picking out the perfect tree and the birch tree is sized for larger properties where it is used as a shade tree, specimen tree or in groups to form a border. Each variety will have a distinguishing feature that identifies the tree and makes it different from the rest of the family.
Sweet birch (Betula lenta) is also known as black birch and cherry birch. The tree is found growing wild in the mountains of Georgia and the Southwest. Monarch birch (Betula maximowicziana) is a native of Japan. River birch (Betula nigra) is native to the Eastern and Midwestern United States and can have single or multiple trunks.
Sweet birch measures 40 to 55 feet tall and 70 to 80 feet wide, starting out as a pyramid and maturing to a round crown at maturity. Monarch birch grows from 40 to 60 feet tall and also is a pyramid when young and round at maturity. River birch tops out at 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide with an oval shape at maturity.
The bark of the sweet birch is red-brown when young and black when the tree is older. The bark of the monarch birch is smooth, shiny and bronze when young and gray to white when mature. River birch has a bark that is brown to black with occasional patches of peach, gray, purple and orange bark.
The sweet birch produces egg-shaped leaves up to 6 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide, which turn a golden-yellow in the fall. Flowers bloom in April with male flowers in clusters 2 to 3 inches long and female in clusters 1 inch long.
The heart-shaped leaves of the monarch birch measure from 3 to 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. The leaves start out as downy soft and become dark-green and then yellow in the fall. Flowers bloom in April, with male flowers in clusters 4 to 5 inches long and female clusters 2 1/2 inches long.
The river birch features egg-shaped leaves medium to dark-green on top and silver on the underside. The leaves turn chartreuse, gold-yellow or yellow-brown in the fall. Male flowers grow in clusters up to 3 inches long. Female flowers are not noticeable.
Plant sweet birch in deep, rich, moist soils and full sun. The tree is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 3 to 8. Monarch birch is hardy in zones 5 to 6 and needs full sun and does well in an urban situation. River birch goes in full sun or partial shade and a moist, dry or wet soil as long as it is acidic.
The tree is hardy in zones 5 to 9.