Landscape Significance

The graceful elegance of the birch allows it to be used as a specimen or for naturalizing, and is best used in large areas.

It is very well-suited for planting along steam banks and in other areas which are inundated with water for weeks at a time. River birch is seen in the wild almost exclusively along stream banks.

River Birch (Betula nigra)
This photo was taken at Trident Technical College, N. Charleston, SC.

Native to the southeastern United States, River Birch is considered the most widely adapted of all the birches, and hardy throughout South Carolina.  It tends to divide into large, arching branches, forming a graceful silhouette.  One of the most appealing features of the birch is the ex-foliating bark, which is scaly, beige or creamy white. In fall, the foliage turns yellow before the leaves drop.

This deciduous tree grows 90 feet in height and spreads 30 to 50 feet at a medium to rapid rate. Birches situated in moist areas thrive and are long-lived, but it tolerates fairly dry soils once it is established. It requires acidic soils, suffering from iron deficiency if pH levels are 6.5 or higher. This species requires full sun and tolerates high temperatures. No pests or diseases are of major concern.

Identifying characteristics

The simple, alternate leaves are generally diamond-shaped, about one to three inches long and one to two inches wide. The flowers are two to three inch long reddish-green stalks that appear in the spring. The reddish brown fruits are cone-like, 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, with many hairy scales, and contain many tiny, three-winged seeds. They ripen and break apart in the fall. River birch is distinguished by reddish, brown bark peeling off in film-like papery curls

More information on the River Birch is available at the Clemson Home & Garden Information Center: Clemson HGIC - River Birch