Common Name: paper birch
Hardiness Zone: 2 to 6
Height: 50 to 70 ft
Width: 25 to 50 ft
This is the tree that people generally think of when they think of "birch." Paper birch is a tall tree reaching heights of 65' to 70' and a diameter of 14" to 20". It has an open crown and often grows singly or in clusters. Its twigs are a dull orange or red during their first winter, they later become brown. The bark is thin and papery and will become pure white with age. The bark is marked by many pores or "lenticels" and will separate into thin sheets that often roll-up. Its bark thickens up on mature trees and will become dark, nearly black, and scaly.
Leaves are simple and grow alternately on the stem. They typically have a length of 2" to 3" and are oval or heart-shaped, pointed at the tip and rounded at the base. They have an irregularly serrate margin and become thick and leathery in texture, they are dull on the upper side and yellowish-green on the lower side. Its seeds are nutlets that resemble a cone and contain many tiny seeds. The nutlets are tightly grouped in a 1" to 1-1/2" long catkin that will ripen in August and September.
Where it grows:
The paper birch prefers acidic, moist, and well-drained soils. It will tolerate the occasional flood as well as alkaline and clay soils. This tree is tolerant of road salts.
How it’s used:
The paper birch is often used in the landscape as a shade tree or showcase tree. Commonly planted in yards and parks as ornamentals. They are favored for their brilliant white-colored bark in the fall and winter. The peeling bark has been historically used for canoe building by Native Americans. The bark is also excellent kindling for fires; it can burn even if has been submerged in water for a year!
Paper birch serves as shelter tree and food sources to game birds, songbirds, insect pollinators, sapsuckers, and small mammals.
Where it is native to:
Native to the Northern half of the United States. Minnesota is in this tree's southern range.
Known Varieties and Their Traits:
Renaissance Reflection® paper birch (Betula papyrifera 'Renci'): A fast-growing cultivar with striking white bark. The dark green foliage transitions to a golden color in the fall. This tree is resistant to bronze birch borer (BBB) but does not do well when exposed to drought or polluted conditions.
Can suffer from chlorosis in high pH soils. Leaf miners and canker is possible. While it can grow in cities, the sub-par environment weakens it and makes it more susceptible to Bronze Birch Borer.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. (Betula papyrifera) Found online: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/trees/paper-birch.html
Missouri Botanical Garden. (Plant Finder) Found Online: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspxtaxonid=242294&isprofile=1&basic=Betula%20papyrifera
The Morton Arboretum. (Trees & Plants) Found Online: https://www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-plant-descriptions/paper-birch