What Is a Birch River Tree?


The graceful River birch or Red birch (Betula nigra) is a birch tree that is indigenous to the American south. The Heritage River birch (Betula nigra 'Heritage') is a cultivar of the River birch. The two varieties have the same preference for soil and climate; their growing characteristics and habits are also the same. The only major difference is the color of their bark.

Red River vs. Heritage Red River

The bark of the River birch is salmon colored; it turns a dark reddish-brown as it ages. The bark of the Heritage River birch is salmon colored; it peels to a lighter shade of brown than the native River birch. Both varieties grow from 25 to 35 feet tall and can live 40 to 50 years. They grow rapidly; when other trees have stopped growing in the summer, they keep growing.

Preferred Environment

The River birch is native to the Atlantic coastal states, the south, the lower Midwest, the lower Mississippi Valley and the eastern Great plains. It grows best along rivers and streams. It does especially well in warm, southern climates, USDA Hardiness Zone 6, but it can be grown in the cooler Hardiness Zones 4 and 5. Birches with white bark do better in cooler climates. It likes partial to full sun.

Popular Uses

Planted alone or in rows, the River birch is often used to landscape parks, golf courses and estates. It is easy to transplant and can withstand extended periods of draught.

Life Cycle

The River birch female flowers in the spring. Male flowers, catkins, form in the summer and stay on the tree through the winter. The catkins expand and bloom in the spring to pollinate the female flowers. Its lustrous green leaves flutter in the wind. In the fall they turn a vibrant yellow.


The River birch likes rich, moist soil. If it is planted in compact soils with a high pH, its leaves can turn yellow. Both the River birch and Heritage River birch are the birch trees of choice if your soil is poorly drained or is subject to periodic flooding.

Disease Resistance

The River Birch is resistant to the Bronze birch borer; infections of the Bronze birch borer can kill birch trees. The River Birch is susceptible to the less pernicious Birch leaf miner, but the attacks are usually not severe.

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About this Author

Richard Hoyt, the author of 26 mysteries, thrillers and other novels, is a former reporter for Honolulu dailies and writer for "Newsweek" magazine. He taught nonfiction writing and journalism at the university level for 10 years. He holds a Ph.D. in American studies.