River Birch

Betula nigra

UConn Plant Database

River Birch is the most common birch tree in our area. Most birches prefer colder climates to the North.

River Birch grows up to 80 feet tall. Its life is short compared to most trees, but it grows fast. River Birch does not tolerate shade and does best in moist soils.

The leaves of River Birch are simple and somewhat diamond-shaped. They are medium to dark green and are double-toothed (means it has smaller teeth on top of large teeth). River Beech leaves turn yellow in the fall.

The bark of this tree varies according to its age. Young River Birch has a silvery gray bark, with light reddish-brown patches. Older trees have dark reddish-brown bark, sometimes almost black.

UConn Plant Database

UConn Plant Database

UConn Plant Database

Ohio Division of Forestry, Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Ohio Division of Forestry, Ohio Department of Natural Resources

River Birch has two different flowers: male and female. Male flowers grow in the fall. These catkins are reddish-brown and stay on the tree through the winter. In early Spring these flowers "bloom" and produce lots of pollen. Female catkins grow in the Spring and get pollinated. The female catkins then turn into fruit.

River Birch fruit is a cone, a little over an inch long. The cone is filled with hairy seeds which travel by wind and water.

River Birch usually grows near water. It is most often found on sandbars and islands in streams. It also grows on streambanks, lakeshores, and floodplains. These trees usually form their own thickets.

Other trees and plants found growing with River Birch include: American Sycamore, Red Maple, Silver Maple, Black Willow, American Hornbeam, Yellow Poplar, Blackgum, Black Cherry, American Elm, Sugar Maple, Boxelder, Mockernut Hickory, American Beech, ash, Sweetgum, Pin Oak, American Basswood, and Buttonbush.

Birch seeds are eaten by many birds, including Carolina Chickadee and Wild Turkey. Voles and shrews also eat seeds.

White-tailed Deer eat leaves and twigs. Beavers eat bark. Rabbits eat seedlings (baby trees).

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drill holes for birch sap. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, squirrels, and various insects drink sap as well.

UConn Plant Database

Relationships in Nature:

Animals Using as Food Source

Animals Using as Shelter

Associations With Other Plants


Wild Turkey

American Sycamore

Carolina Chickadee

Red Maple

Meadow Vole

Silver Maple

Least Shrew

Black Willow

White-tailed Deer

American Hornbeam

Eastern Cottontail

Yellow Poplar


Black Cherry

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

American Elm

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Mockernut Hickory


American Beech


Relationship to Humans:

River Birch wood is used to make toys and artificial limbs. River Birch is often planted to help prevent erosion and as a landscape tree. Many people are allergic to birch pollen in the spring.


B etula
Betula nigra


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