Gray Birch (Populifolia)

The Gray Birch (Populifolia) is generally described as a perennial tree. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the mid spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Gray Birch (Populifolia) has a short life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Gray Birch (Populifolia) will reach up to 40 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 40 feet.

The Gray Birch (Populifolia) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a rapid ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -33°F. has medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Riparian buffers: Gray birch can add visual interest and diversity to buffer installations, except where water tables are at or near the surface.

Wildlife: Birds, especially goldfinches and other small-seed eaters, feed heavily on ripe gray birch seed.

General Characteristics

Betula populifolia Marsh., gray birch, is a pioneer species typically found on disturbed sites with exposed, well drained soils. Gray birch is a moderate sized tree with fast growth (2-5 ft/yr) on sites with nutrient availability. The bark of sapling and pole aged plants is white, but not as bright or as papery as that of paper birch. Beyond the pole stage of growth the bark quickly develops black and rough patches, with white remaining between them. Gray birch has strong terminal growth and is typically well-formed with relatively small diameter branches. The leaves of gray birch are narrowly triangular with larger serrations along the edge than paper birch. The fall color of gray birch is a bright yellow. In eastern Pennsylvania where the ranges of gray and river birch overlap, the salmon colored bark and wider leaves distinguish the river birch.

Required Growing Conditions

Gray birch is adapted to soils with poor and excessive drainage. However, it is much more common on dry, disturbed soils throughout much of its range. Gray birch is native to eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York (roughly the I-81 corridor) to the Canadian Maritime Provinces. It is often in association with conifers such as white pine and scotch pine where seed sources exist. It is often the first tree species to invade disturbed droughty sites and tends to inhibit other vegetation by utilizing the available soil moisture and nutrients. Gray birch, as a pioneer species, prefers sites with ample sunlight and is shade intolerant. It is not tolerant of flooding of any significant duration.

Cultivation and Care

As noted above, gray birch is a rapid invader on disturbed sites when local seed sources exist. With mature trees in the vicinity there is little need to plant gray birch. Seedlings of the species, whether wild or nursery grown, are easily transplanted and are widely adapted to soil conditions. Due to their rapid growth in the nursery, stock is outplanted as 1 yr or 2 yr field grown bareroot seedlings. Gray birch, like all seedlings, requires protection from competing vegetation and weeds to achieve acceptable growth rates.Planting dates for trees and shrubs vary depending upon their classification as conifers or deciduous. Gray birch can be planted in the spring or fall after the leaves have turned color. The seedlings will respond best if planted as early in the spring as possible, or as soon as the plants are dormant in the fall. Both situations allow for root growth and settling of the soil before leaf-out or cold drying winds increase moisture stress. In the nursery seed can be planted without stratification. Seed must be planted very shallowly to allow for light to help trigger germination.

General Upkeep and Control

Maintaining suppression of grasses and weeds is the key to success with woody plantings. On sites where gray birch seeds in from surrounding mature trees, the birch may have to be controlled to avoid too much competition with other desirable species.

Soil amendments are generally not needed for acceptable growth of this species.

Pests and Potential Problems Gray birch is more resistant than paper birch to the bronze birch borer, and is seldom killed by it. Likewise, chinch bugs infest the young catkins and leaves, but the tree seems to tolerate them.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin) There may be cultivars of gray birch in the horticultural trade, for instance “weeping” or variegated selections. These should be avoided for conservation plantings as they frequently require exceptional care to maintain and are not as likely to withstand environmental stress. Regional seed sources are highly preferred for planting stock.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Tree
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Short
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Mid Spring
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Thicket Forming
Drought Tolerance Medium
Shade Tolerance Intermediate
Height When Mature 40
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Brown
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Rapid
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -33
Soil Depth for Roots 18
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 3.5–6 pH
Precipitation Range 36–36 inches/yr
Planting Density 700–1200 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 18
Minimum Frost-Free Days 90 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA