The sweet birch (Betula lenta), is known as cherry birch, mahogany birch, spice birch and black birch, and is native to eastern North America This tree can be used as an ornamental or shade species, with the bonus of the pleasant aroma of its leaves and twigs. The wintergreen smell that greets the nostrils when foliage and twigs are crushed comes from oil that once flavored candy and certain medicines.
Sweet birch grows to heights of 50 to 80 feet, making it an oft-utilized landscaping species in parks, golf courses and other open areas. The trunk of a sweet birch can be as wide as 2-1/2 feet. The leaves are up to 6 inches in length and as wide at their midsections as 3-1/2 inches. A healthy sweet birch lives 40 to 50 years.
The bark of a mature sweet birch is brown to almost black, becomes plate-like over time and develops horizontal lenitcals. As it ages the bark often cracks. The flowers, called catkins, come in male and female varieties, with the male catkins being yellow and droopy. The smaller female catkins have a greenish tint and exist upright on the same twigs. The shiny green summer leaves turn yellow in the fall.
The sweet birch tree grows mostly in the eastern United States. The tree's range extends from southeastern Maine into southern portions of New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. Parts of Ohio, nearly all of Pennsylvania, all of southern New England and northern New Jersey have native sweet birches. It grows in eastern sections of West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as the western parts of the Carolinas into northern Georgia and Alabama.
Growing Sweet Birch
Black birch likes well-drained, moist soil that is slightly acidic. This tree can survive in light shade but grows to its full potential in full sun. Refrain from utilizing sweet birch if you typically experience long, hot summers, as this species prefers cool weather.
Trying to establish a sweet birch in a state other than which it grows naturally leaves it susceptible to stress. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, insects such as birch borer are a threat to the sweet birch. Planting the tree in dry soil will diminish potential problems. Tap your mature sweet birches to gather the sap, which can ferment to create birch beer, a carbonated soft drink that is similar in taste to root beer.