Birch wood trees (Betula spp.) are members of the Betulaceae family. Birch trees grow in USDA plant hardiness zones 2 to 4. These trees do best in mild summer areas. Birch trees reach 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide. The bark is smooth and light colored. They produce 2- to 4-inch-long catkins and cones. Birch trees have shallow roots and do not develop a deep tap root. It is important to water the birch trees when there is a prolonged drought. Birch wood requires 1 to 2 inches of water each week.
Birch wood tree leaves are oval in shape with a sharp point and round base. The edges of the leaves are serrated with three to seven veins running through the leaves. The leaf top is dark green, smooth and leathery. The underside of the leaf is dull green and hairy. The 2- to 3-inch-long leaves turn bright yellow during the fall.
Birch trees grow in sandy soil with good drainage. They like moist sites located in full sun. Birch wood groves are found beside rivers, lakes and ravines.
Birch trees are planted for windbreaks and landscape trees. They also provide food for birds and mammals. The birch sap is used to treat leather and make birch wine. The oil repels most insect pests. Birch wood is also used for firewood, toothpicks, spools, carving blocks, wooden shoes and furniture.
The bronze birch borer attacks birch trees that are stressed by drought or overwatering. Gypsy moth caterpillars prefer birch leaves more than other trees. Birch leaf miner infestations over several years will cause birch trees to die.
Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is the most common cultivated birch type. River birch trees (Betula nagra) are the only birch tree that favors wet growing conditions. Other types of birch trees include Asian white birch (Betula platyphylla), European white birch (Betula pendula) and gray birch (Betula populifolia).