14 Different Types of Birch Trees & Their Unique Characteristics

Birch trees (Betula spp.) are prized for their delicate-looking foliage and distinctive bark. They are deciduous trees or shrubs with an appealing range of bark colors: crisp white, pink, copper, near-red or glossy brown. The mature size of birch trees varies depending on the species. In general, they range from 40 to 70 feet tall, with canopy widths of between 35 to 60 feet.

Betula are very rewarding trees which are not only good-looking, but also provide interest year around. Admired for their graceful appearance, particularly in winter, they are also beautiful in the spring as their fresh leaves expand to create a lovely canopy and in the fall when their leaves take on golden shades. Extraordinarily hardy and easy to grow, in sun to light dappled shade, Betula offer a wide variety of styles and make fabulous specimen trees.

  1. Betula Papyrifera (Paper Birch)
  2. Betula Nigra (River Birch)
  3. Betula Lenta (Black Birch or Sweet Birch)
  4. Betula Alleghaniensis (Yellow Birch)
  5. Betula Populifolia (Gray Birch)
  6. Betula Pendula (European White Birch)
  7. Betula Albosinensis (Chinese Red Birch)
  8. Betula Pubescens (Downy Birch)
  9. Betula Nana (Dwarf Birch)
  10. Betula Utilis (Himalayan Birch)
  11. Betula Pumila (Bog Birch)
  12. Sweet birch trees (Betula lenta)
  13. Water Birch (Betula occidentalis)
  14. Erman’s Birch (Betula ermanii)
  15. Japanese Cherry Birch (Betula grossa)

Silver Birch

Also known as warty birch, the European white birch (Betula pendula) is a tall, slender tree that grows up to 50 feet tall, producing long, swaying branches lined with triangular, tooth-edged leaves, which warm up to yellow in fall before they shed for the winter. The bark of the tree is silvery white, with a flaky, peeling texture that is reminiscent of the paper birch (Betula papyrifera). Smooth in young trees, the bark gets rugged at the base in older trees. Throughout history, the European white birch has been used for reasons ranging from brewing beer to building boats. Silver Birch is a wonderful plant for wildlife. It attracts caterpillars and provides food for migrating birds in spring and fall.

Paper Birch

Betula papyrifera, commonly called paper birch or canoe birch, is a robust, fast-growing landscaping tree with a most attractive gleaming white bark, which peels off in papery strips to reveal an orange-brown bark underneath. Growing with an oval rounded habit, mature trees develop black markings on the white bark. The ovate, irregularly toothed, dark green leaves turn bright yellow in fall. In spring, tiny yellowish-brown male flowers appear in drooping catkins while greenish female flowers appear in upright catkins. The female flowers give way to drooping cone-like fruits containing numerous small winged seeds.

Also Read: Popular Fast Growing Trees

Yellow Birch

Betula alleghaniensis, commonly referred to as Yellow Birch is a slender deciduous tree of conical habit in youth, becoming rounded with age. Its branches are covered with ovate, dark green leaves. The foliage warms up to brilliant golden yellow in fall. Tiny inconspicuous flowers appear in spring before the leaves unfurl. They are held in hanging catkins (male flowers) or in upright catkins (female flowers). Yellow Birch gives off a heady aroma of wintergreen when leaves, shoots or bark are crushed. The bark is a polished brown or bronze, with thin, papery, shaggy shreds on young trees, becoming gray-brown and breaking into large, ragged-edged plates with age.

Also Read: Landscaping Trees With a White Bark

Himalayan Birch

Himalayan birch, betula utilis or albosinensis is an exquisite birch recognizable for its distinctive coppery to orange-red bark, which peels off in thin sheets to reveal a fresh cream-pink surface beneath. Himalayan Birch has a pyramidal shape, with branches that extend upward and open. Yellowish-brown male flowers in 3-5 inch drooping catkins appear in the spring. Greenish female blooms create smaller upright catkins, followed by drooping fruits that contain small, winged seeds in early autumn. The leaves are oval-shaped, glossy green in appearance and emerge emerald green in spring and turn a beautiful, golden-yellow in fall before being shed. To brighten the quietude of winter, this deciduous tree reveals its gleaming white bark along the trunk and young branches.

Erman’s Birch

Betula ermanii simply know as Erman’s Birch, is a graceful medium-sized birch with peeling creamy bark on the trunk, delicately touched with copper-pink tones, and papery brown bark on the branches. Featuring a stately and broadly conical habit, it bears large, coarsely toothed, heart-shaped, bright green leaves, which warm up to a wonderful golden-yellow in fall before they shed for the winter. In spring, tiny yellowish-brown male flowers appear in long catkins. Attractive in all seasons, but particularly brilliant in winter, this elegant birch tree will lift your garden, whether you grow it as a single or multi-stemmed specimen.

Japanese White Birch

Betula platyphylla, commonly called Japanese white birch, is a medium to large sized tree noted for its white bark, thin spreading branches and slightly pendant branchlets. Featuring an elegant, pyramidal habit, it bears ovate, toothed, lime-green leaves, with some golden-yellow fall color before they shed for the winter. In spring, tiny yellowish-brown male flowers appear in drooping catkins while greenish female flowers appear in upright catkins. The female flowers give way to drooping cone-like fruits containing numerous small winged seeds. Attractive in all seasons, this elegant birch tree is an excellent landscape tree in cool temperate climates.

Also Read: Trees With Beautiful Fall Color

Gray Birch

Betula populifolia also referred to as gray birch, old-field birch, wire birch or poplar-leaved birch is covered almost to the ground with flexible branches that form a narrow pyramidal crown. The thin, glossy, dark green, triangular leaves have long thin stems and flutter in the wind; they resemble those of unrelated poplar trees. The red-brown or gray bark of young stems and branches whitens as the tree matures, becoming red-orange on the inner surface. The outer bark resembles that of paper birch but is not so white, peels less, and has rough triangular black patches below the junctions of branches and trunk.

River Birch

Betula nigra, commonly referred to as River Birch, is a bushy deciduous tree prized for its incredible peeling bark. Salmon-pink, smooth and shiny at first, the bark flakes and curls in cinnamon-brown to blackish sheets. This birch has a large, pyramidal, upright habit and bears diamond-shaped, glossy green leaves with silvery undersides, which turn yellow in fall. In spring, tiny yellowish-brown male flowers appear in drooping catkins while greenish female flowers appear in upright catkins. The female flowers give way to drooping cone-like fruits containing numerous small winged seeds. River birch is fast growing and perhaps the most culturally adaptable and heat tolerant of the birches. It can be grown as either a single trunk or multi-stemmed tree.

Also Read: Different Types of Willow Trees

Sweet Birch

Betula lenta also referred to as Sweet Birch is a single-trunked, medium-sized birch tree of conical habit when young, becoming oval to rounded at maturity. Its ascending branches are covered with ovate, shiny leaves, which emerge light green in spring, and then turns dark green as the season progresses before warming up to rich golden yellow in fall. The flowers are small, tan catkins, that appear in spring before the leaves unfurl. Sweet Birch gives off a sweet fragrance when leaves, shoots or bark are crushed. Smelling and tasting of wintergreen, the bark is quite appealing. Thin and reddish-brown in youth, it becomes dark-gray with vertical, scaly plates with age. In winter, its delicate branching reveals the alternating, pointed buds and delicate catkins.

Chinese Red Birch

Chinese Red Birch features a most attractive coppery-pink bark with subtle shades of caramel and honey, and abundant white lenticels (bumpy lines). The eye-catching bark provides a very nice contrast with the summer canopy of oval, tapering, dark green leaves. The foliage warms up to golden-yellow in fall before shedding for the winter. In spring, tiny yellowish-brown male flowers appear in drooping catkins. Vigorous, this medium-sized deciduous tree has a conical, upright, lightly spreading, bushy habit and is best grown as a specimen in a large lawn, where its glowing peeling bark can be admired in winter.

Downy birch

Betula pubescens also commonly referred to as Downy birch or moor birch is a fast-growing and relatively small birch tree. Although quite similar to silver birch (Betula pendula), downy birch is distinguished by its hairy leaves and shoots. It has downy young shoots, which are most pronounced on younger trees, and sharply toothed leaves which are also downy on the underside. The grey-white bark has horizontal lines and peels into papery layers. The leaves are more rounded in shape than Silver Birch and the base of the leaf is more or less rounded or heart-shaped. Attractive in all seasons, this elegant birch tree is an excellent landscape tree in cool temperate climates. Downy birch prefers wet sites and does best in moist, acidic, sandy, or rocky, well-drained loam in full sun to part shade.

Bog Birch

The bark of the trunk or lower branches is gray and slightly rough-textured; it doesn’t peel away in strips. The bark of twigs and upper branches is reddish brown and smooth with scattered white lenticels; sometimes it becomes covered with a glaucous gray sheen. Young shoots are light green to light brown and they usually have non-glandular hairs. In early spring, tiny yellowish-brown male flowers appear in conspicuous catkins. Vigorous, this medium-sized deciduous tree has a conical crown and is best grown as a specimen, where its stark white bark can be admired. The white bark, develops fully when the tree is around 8 years old.

Water Birch

Betula occidentalis, the water birch is shrub or small tree growing to 10 meter high, usually with multiple trunks. The bark is dark red-brown to blackish, and smooth but not exfoliating.The surface is conspicuously marked with horizontal lines (lenticle scars) that enlarge as the stem grows. The twigs are smooth or thinly hairy and have prominent resinous glands but are odorless when scraped. The leaves are alternate, ovate to rhombic, with a serrated margin. Water birch is mainly used for stream-bank stabilization and wildlife habitat. It is valuable for shade and cover for fish in mountain streams. It also provides valuable shade for recreation sites.

Japanese Cherry Birch

Betula grossa, or Japanese Cherry Birch, is a conical-shaped tree with cherry-like bark that turn dark grey. It is native to Japan where it is often found growing on slopes in woodlands. The tree casts light shade on understory plants and has shallow roots. Vigorous and fast-growing, this medium-sized deciduous tree has an oval crown with gracefully ascending branches. It can be grown as a single stemmed tree, but also makes a wonderful multi-stemmed specimen. Not very popular, this birch is loved by some gardeners for its graceful appearance, particularly in winter.

Further References

  1. Facts About Birch Trees: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birch
  2. Common Species of Birch Trees: https://www.thespruce.com/twelve-species-cultivars-of-birch-trees-3269660
  3. Everything you need to know about birch trees: https://www.britannica.com/plant/birch
  4. Birch Trees: https://www.ornamental-trees.co.uk/birch-trees-betula-trees-c32