Paper Birch (Papyrifera)

The Paper Birch (Papyrifera) 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 Paper Birch (Papyrifera) has green foliage and inconspicuous yellow flowers, with an abuncance of conspicuous brown fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the mid spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until summer. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Paper Birch (Papyrifera) has a short life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Paper Birch (Papyrifera) will reach up to 70 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 40 feet.

The Paper Birch (Papyrifera) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, cuttings, 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 -62°F. has low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: The sap and inner bark is used as emergency food (MacKinnon & Pojar 1994). White birch can be tapped in the spring to obtain sap from which beer; syrup, wine or vinegar is made. The inner bark can be dried and ground into a meal and used as a thickener in soups or added to flour used in making bread. A tea is made from the root bark and young leaves of white birch. The Shuswap made soap and shampoo from the leaves (MacKinnon, Pojar, & Coupe´ 192). It is also used by native Americans to make canoes, buckets, and baskets. The Shuswap were noted for their beautiful birch bark baskets (Ibid.). North American Indian tribes used white birch to treat skin problems of various rashes; skin sores, and burns (Moerman 1998). The bark has been used to make casts for broken bones.

Economic: White birch wood is used commercially for pulpwood, plywood, veneer, and turnery. Tree chips are used for paper manufacture and fuel.

Medicinal: A decoction has been used to treat dysentery, various diseases of the blood, induce sweating, and to ensure an adequate supply of milk in nursing mothers (Moerman 1998). Birch gum could have been medicinal for some stone-age gathers. The chewable gum contains zylitol, a disinfectant, and some terpenes, which could give the chewier a mild buzz (MacKinnon & Pojar 1994).

Landscaping & Wildlife: Betula papyrifera is commonly used as a landscape tree for it’s striking coloration. It is a desirable ornamental to be planted around homes and public buildings, in parks, and on campuses. Moose, snowshoe hare, and white-tailed deer browse paper birch. Numerous birds and small mammals eat the buds, catkins, and seeds.

Agroforestry: White birch is used in forested riparian buffers to help reduce stream bank erosion, protect aquatic environments, enhance wildlife, and increase biodiversity.

General Characteristics

General: Birch family (Betulaceae). White birch is a deciduous small to medium sized native tree. The leaves are alternate, ovate or triangular, five to ten centimeters long. The flowers are male and female flowers in separate catkins two to four centimeters long, the catkins break up at maturity (MacKinnon & Pojar 1994). The fruits are mature seed catkins that are three to five centimeters long. The bark is thin, smooth, dark red to almost black on young stems, becoming reddish-brown and then bright creamy white (Farrar 1995).

Required Growing Conditions

White birch is native in Northern North America. It is widely distributed from northwestern Alaska east across Canada to Labrador and Newfoundland, south in northwestern states to Pennsylvania and Iowa and in the western states to Montana and northeastern Oregon (Viereck & Little & 1972). For current distribution, please consult the Plant profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation White birch is adapted to a variety of soils. It grows best in well-drained acid, sandy or silty loam, in cold soil temperatures and ample moisture. It is not tolerant of drought, compacted soils, or areas with high air temperatures. This species grows best in full sunlight and is very shade intolerant. It does not perform well in harsh conditions or heat and is not tolerant of pollution.

Cultivation and Care

Propagation from Seed: Propagation by seed requires that the seed is best sown as soon as it is ripe. Sow the seeds in containers or seed trays containing a seed germination medium to which a slow release fertilizer is added. Firm the medium and sow the seed thinly and evenly on top, and cover with medium to a depth of medium (Heuser 1997). Place the pots in a sunny location in a cold frame. Plant seedlings into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. When seedlings are large enough to handle they should be placed into individual pots and grown in a cold frame for their first winter.

General Upkeep and Control

Fertilization and irrigation should be done to maintain white birch vigorous condition and to help prevent borer infestation. Don’t prune this birch or other birches until summer because they are “bleeders” and should not be cut when the sap is flowing.

White birch is susceptible to bronze birch borer and birch leaf minor. BEPO"Gray birch is an early colonizer of disturbed sites, growing best with little competition from other species. It often forms pure stands from seedlings and root suckers.

Gray birch is usually top-killed by fire, but will resprout from root suckers. The tree can be killed by fire during drought periods when soil organic matter is too dry to protect the roots. The species accumulates abundant seed banks in the soil. Seedling regeneration following fire is probable from the seed banks.

Gray birch is prone to injury by snow and ice. Pests and Potential Problems Birch leaf miner is a pest that is disfiguring to the foliage, but does not kill the plant. Gray birch can be susceptible to the bronze birch borer that can cut off sap flow and cause branches to die back. A healthy vigorous tree is much less susceptible to attack. The best way to prevent birch borer attack is to plant the birch in a cool, moist, shady location and to keep it healthy by watering and fertilizing when needed. A birch tree planted in a sunny exposed area may lose vigor and become weakened allowing the borers to become established. "

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 Single Stem
Drought Tolerance Low
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 70
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Summer
Seed Spread Rate Rapid
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings, Seed
Moisture Requirements High
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -62
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 4.2–7.9 pH
Precipitation Range 12–12 inches/yr
Planting Density 300–700 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Minimum Frost-Free Days 80 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Medium
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability High
Fire Resistant No

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