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Overview

Comprehensive Description

Comments

The wood of Gray Birch is relatively soft and weak, but it is sometimes used to make wooden spools, clothes pins, toothpicks, and other wooden objects. It is also used as firewood and to make paper pulp. Gray Birch is an attractive tree that resembles the commonly cultivated Betula pendula (European White Birch). Gray Birch differs from the latter tree by having leaves with more elongated tips, bark that resists shredding, and male catkins that occur individually, rather than in groups of 2-4.
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Description

This small tree is up to 30' tall, forming either a single or multiple trunks (usually the latter) up to 1' across. There is a narrow crown around each trunk. Trunk bark is white to light gray with horizontal fissures; it does not peel away. There are also flattened arrowhead markings that are black from detached branches. Branch bark is black to gray, while twigs are reddish brown with white lenticels. Young shoots are light green and usually pubescent. Either opposite or alternate leaves develop along the twigs and young shoots. The leaf blades are up to 3" long and 2" across; they are deltate in shape and doubly serrated along their their margins. The bases of these blades are broadly obtuse, while their tips are elongated and slowly tapering. The upper blade surface is medium green and glabrous, while the lower surface is pale green and glabrous. The petioles are light green to pale reddish green and somewhat flattened; they are up to 1½" long. Gray Birch is monoecious, producing separate male (staminate) and female (pistillate) catkins on the same tree. Drooping male catkins up to 3" long occur individually at the tips of twigs. Each male catkin consists of numerous male florets and floral bracts. Each male floret has 2 stamens, an insignificant calyx, and no corolla; male florets occur in groups of 3 behind floral bracts that are cordate-orbicular in shape. Erect female catkins about 1/3" long occur among the new leaves of twigs. Each female catkin consists of numerous female florets and floral bracts. Each female floret consists of a somewhat flattened ovary with a pair of styles at its apex; female florets occur in groups of 2-3 behind floral bracts that are 3-lobed. The blooming period occurs from late spring to early summer and lasts about 1-2 weeks. Afterwards, female catkins become about 2/3" long and droop downward as they mature. The samaras (winged seeds) are distributed by the wind during late autumn or winter. The seed bodies of the samaras are ellipsoid to obovoid and somewhat flattened. Each samara has a pair of membranous wings that are more wide than the seed body. The root system is shallow and branching.
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Description

General: Birch Family (Betulaceae). Gray birch can be distinguished from Betula papyrifera by its tight, non-exfoliating bark. Other key characteristics include: tapered, sharp leaf tips (acuminate) and black triangular bark patches on branch bases. Several trees occur in a cluster, growing from the same root group.

Gray birch is a rapid grower (0.6 m per year) and short-lived (approximately 20 years). The trees begin producing fruit at 8 years of age.

Gray birch grows to 10 m tall; trunks are seldom over 1.5 dm thick. Bark is chalky-white with black triangular markings. Leaves are acuminate, with serrated edges near the tip. Male catkins (elongated flower clusters) are yellow and 1.3 to 3 cm long. Female catkins are stouter and resemble cones in appearance. Flowering takes place between April and May. Fruit sets in late summer to fall, and seeds are wind dispersed during late fall and winter.

Distribution: Gray birch is native to the northeastern United States. It occurs from Nova Scotia to Southern Quebec, south to New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with outlying populations in southern Ontario, northern Ohio, northeast Indiana, and south to the North Carolina mountains. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Habitat: Gray birch is an early colonizer of poor sites, road cuts, and burned areas. It is listed as a common associate of the aspen-birch and beech-birch-maple communities in the northeastern hardwood forest. However, it is not an indicator any particular habitat type.

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Alternative names

Betula alba var. populifolia, Betula populifolia forma purpurea, fire birch, old field birch, poverty birch, white birch, wire birch.

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Distribution

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Gray Birch is a rare native tree in Illinois, where it is found in the NE section of the state (see Distribution Map). Some populations of Gray Birch in Illinois may be naturalized descendants of cultivated trees. It is more common further to the east and northeast.  Habitats include burnt-over areas of sandy woodlands and sandy savannas, scrubby sand prairies, thickets, banks of streams, and abandoned sandy fields. Gray Birch is a pioneer tree that depends on wildfires and other kinds of disturbance to maintain itself in these habitats.
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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Occurrence in North America

     CT  DE  IN  ME  MD  MA  NH  NJ  NY  NC
     OH  PA  RI  VT  VA  NB  NF  NS  ON  PE
     PQ

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The range of gray birch extends west from Nova Scotia to southern
Ontario, and south to New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.  Disjunct
populations occur in northern Ohio, Virginia, and western North Carolina
[6,9,22,33].

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N.B., N.S., Ont., P.E.I., Que.; Conn., Del., Ill., Ind., Maine, Md., Mass., N.H., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Pa., R.I., S.C., Vt., Va.
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Adaptation

The USDA Hardiness zones for gray birch are 3 to 8. It grows best on moist, well-drained soil along streams, ponds, lakes, and swamps but also on dry sandy or gravelly soils. Gray birch can grow in inorganic soils of slopes and hillsides but growth is slow. Soils with high pH can cause chlorosis of the foliage. It grows easily in sun and partial shade but is shade intolerant.

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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

More info for the term: tree

Gray birch is a fast-growing, short-lived, deciduous tree commonly
attaining heights of 20 to 30 feet (6-9 m) [5].  Its short, slender,
contorted branches form a narrow pyramidal crown.  The alternate leaves
occur singly or in pairs on thin, gray twigs.  The leaves are long and
pointed with double-toothed margins.  The male flowers are borne on
yellow catkins hanging from the twigs.  The female catkins are erect on
the stems which develop into drooping, stalked cones with many small
nutlike winged seeds.  The trunk is dark, rough, and irregularly broken
by shallow fissures.  The roots are shallow [6,7,9,17].

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Description

Trees , broadly pyramidal, to 10 m; trunks usually several. Bark when young dark reddish brown, in maturity becoming grayish white, smooth, close; lenticels dark, horizontally expanded. Twigs without taste and odor of wintergreen, glabrous to sparsely pubescent, dotted with small, inconspicuous, resinous glands. Leaf blade broadly ovate to deltate or rhombic with 5--18 pairs of lateral veins, 3--10 × 3--8 cm, base truncate to cuneate, marginally coarsely, irregularly, or sometimes obscurely doubly serrate, apex abruptly long-acuminate; surfaces abaxially glabrous or sparsely pubescent, often covered with minute, resinous glands. Infructescences erect to nearly pendulous, nearly cylindric, 1--2.5(--3) × 0.8--1 cm, shattering with fruits in early fall; scales adaxially densely pubescent, lobes diverging distal to middle, central lobe cuneate, acute, much shorter than lateral lobes, lateral lobes divergent, broad, irregularly angular. Samaras with wings much broader than body, broadest near middle, often extended beyond body both apically and basally. 2 n = 28.
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Diagnostic Description

Synonym

Betula alba Linnaeus subsp. populifolia (Marshall) Regel; B. alba var. populifolia (Marshall) Spach
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Ecology

Habitat

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Gray Birch is a rare native tree in Illinois, where it is found in the NE section of the state (see Distribution Map). Some populations of Gray Birch in Illinois may be naturalized descendants of cultivated trees. It is more common further to the east and northeast.  Habitats include burnt-over areas of sandy woodlands and sandy savannas, scrubby sand prairies, thickets, banks of streams, and abandoned sandy fields. Gray Birch is a pioneer tree that depends on wildfires and other kinds of disturbance to maintain itself in these habitats.
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Habitat characteristics

More info for the term: tree

Gray birch is found on a wide variety of sites.  It grows best on moist,
well-drained soil along streams, ponds, lakes, and swamps but also grows
on dry sandy or gravelly soil.  Gray birch grows on inorganic soils of
rocky slopes and hillsides, but its growth is usually retarded on these
sites [6,8,17].

Common tree associates of gray birch are blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica),
black oak (Quercus velutina), red oak (Q. borealis), eastern hophornbeam
(Ostrya virginiana), American holly (Ilex opaca), black cherry (Prunus
serotina), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and aspen (Populus
tremuloides).  Common understory associates include hobblebush (Viburnum
alnifolium), blueberry (Vaccinium spp.), witch hazel (Hamamelis
virginiana), bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), and Canada serviceberry
(Amelanchier canadensis) [22,27,29,36].

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Key Plant Community Associations

More info for the term: hardwood

Gray birch is listed as a common associate of the aspen-birch (Populus
spp.-Betula spp.) and the beech-birch-maple (Fagus spp.-Betula spp.-Acer
spp.) communities in the northeastern hardwood forest, but it is not an
indicator of any particular habitat type [21].

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Habitat: Cover Types

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):

     5  Balsam fir
    19  Gray birch - red maple
    21  Eastern white pine
    22  White pine - hemlock
    25  Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch
    32  Red spruce
    33  Red spruce - balsam fir
    35  Paper birch - red spruce - balsam fir
    39  Black ash - American elm - red maple
    45  Pitch pine
    46  Eastern redcedar
    97  Atlantic white-cedar

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Habitat: Plant Associations

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):

   K095  Great Lakes pine forest
   K096  Northeastern spruce - fir forest
   K101  Elm - ash forest
   K102  Beech - maple forest
   K104  Appalachian oak forest
   K106  Northern hardwoods
   K108  Northern hardwoods - spruce forest
   K111  Oak - hickory - pine forest

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Habitat: Ecosystem

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):

   FRES10  White - red - jack pine
   FRES13  Loblolly - shortleaf pine
   FRES14  Oak - pine
   FRES16  Oak - gum - cypress
   FRES17  Elm - ash - cottonwood
   FRES18  Maple - beech - birch
   FRES19  Aspen - Birch

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Rocky or sandy open woods, moist to dryish slopes, old fields, and waste places; 100--600m.
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Dispersal

Establishment

Seed heads (strobiles) should be collected when they are still a little green and then spread out in a dry place until strobiles begin to fall apart. Seeds can be easily removed from the strobiles and are best stored at 1% to 3% moisture content at 2.2 to 3.3oC. Cold storage temperatures and exposure to light aid in germination. Birch seeds can be sown after collection in the late summer or fall, or in the spring after prechilling for 4 to 8 weeks. Cover seeds with soil to one times the depth of the seed (approximately 3mm). Greenhouse temperatures should be set at alternating temperatures of 30oC for 8 hours and 20oC for 16, with light supplied during the 30oC period. Seedlings require light shade during the first 2 to 3 months of the first summer.

Rooted cuttings can also produce gray birch seedlings. Collect 8 to 10 inch apical cuttings from trees in November or late March to April. Wound the base of each cutting by making two 1-inch longitudinal cuts. Apply a rooting hormone containing approximately .10% indole-butyric-acid (IBA) to the lower portion of the cutting, covering the wounds, and place each cutting in a combined medium of coarse and fine sand. If leaves are present, remove all but three apical leaves. Place cuttings in a mist bed, keeping the soil temperature at 22-24oC. Rooting will take place within 8 weeks.

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Associations

Faunal Associations

Many kinds of insects feed on the leaves and catkins, suck plant juices, or bore through the wood of Gray Birch and other birches (Betula spp.). These insects include
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General Ecology

Immediate Effect of Fire

More info for the terms: ground fire, organic soils, tree

Gray birch is usually top-killed by low- to moderate-severity fires.
During periods of drought when organic soils can become extremely dry, a
hot, slow-moving ground fire can burn all the organic matter and consume
the shallow roots, thus killing the tree [4,31].

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Post-fire Regeneration

More info for the terms: secondary colonizer, tree

   Tree with adventitious-bud root crown/root sucker
   Secondary colonizer - on-site seed
   Secondary colonizer - off-site seed

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Fire Ecology

More info for the term: tree

Fire, which can help establish gray birch, can also be quite damaging.
The thin bark of gray birch is very flammable, so the tree is easily
injured by fire [4,31].  Starker [32] lists gray birch as low in
resistance to fire, ranking it 17th out of 22 fire-resistant hardwoods
in the northeastern United States.  Gray birch is able sprout from the
root crown after aboveground portions are killed by fire [13].

Gray birch's abundant wind-dispersed seed is important in colonizing
burns.  Also, gray birch is likely to accumulate abundant seed in the
soil.  Seedling establishment following fire is probable from such seed
banks.

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Successional Status

More info on this topic.

More info for the terms: climax, succession

Obligate Initial Community Species.

Gray birch is a pioneer species.  It is an early seral species in
oldfield succession or following clearcutting in northern hardwood
forests.  Gray birch is shade intolerant and eventually gives way to a
fir-spruce (Abies spp.-Picea spp.) forest community [12,18].  On
undisturbed sites, climax succession is toward a maple-beech forest
community [18].

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Regeneration Processes

Seed production and dissemination.  Gray birch reproduces mainly by
seed.  It begins producing seed at 8 years of age with abundant seed
crops every year.  The seed crops germinate readily.  The light, winged
seeds are dispersed by the wind and some seeds travel great distances
[1,10].  Gray birch is a prolific seed producer and will form a seed
bank in the soil [14,18].

Vegetative reproduction.  Gray birch sprouts from the stump when cut or
following fire.  Sprouting usually occurs when young trees have been cut
in the spring leaving stumps of about 2 inches (5 cm) in height [17].
Stump sprouts can be a valuable seed source since sprouts alone are
usually not numerous enough to adequately reproduce mature gray birch
stands [1,7].

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Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)

More info on this topic.

More info for the term: phanerophyte

  
   Phanerophyte

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Life Form

More info for the term: tree

Tree

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Plant Response to Fire

Gray birch will sprout from the stump following fire [1,25].

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Phenology

More info on this topic.

Gray birch flowers between April and May; the fruit ripens from
September to October.  The seed is dispersed from October through the
middle of winter [2].

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Flowering/Fruiting

Flowering late spring.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Betula populifolia

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Betula populifolia

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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In Maryland gray birch is known from only three or four contiguous
stations or populations within the boundaries of the state. In Delaware
gray birch is listed as being extinct [3,33].

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Status

Gray birch is extinct in Delaware, endangered in Illinois, extirpated in Indiana, potentially threatened in Ohio, and rare in Maryland. Please consult the PLANTS Web site (http://plants.usda.gov) and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).

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Threats

Pests and potential problems

Birch leaf miner is a pest that is disfiguring to the foliage, but does not kill the plant.

Gray birch can be susceptible to the bronze birch borer that can cut off sap flow and cause branches to die back. A healthy vigorous tree is much less susceptible to attack. The best way to prevent birch borer attack is to plant the birch in a cool, moist, shady location and to keep it healthy by watering and fertilizing when needed. A birch tree planted in a sunny exposed area may lose vigor and become weakened allowing the borers to become established.

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Management

Management considerations

Gray birch is not a valued timber species due to its small size and
limited distribution [17].  It is short-lived and does not compete with
more desirable commercial trees in any part of its range [14].  With the
exception of injury caused by leaf miner, gray birch is free from
diseases.  It is often seriously injured by ice and snow [7].

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Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)

The NRCS Plant Materials Program has not released any cultivars of gray birch for conservation use. Ornamental cultivars of this species include ‘Laciniata,’ with pinnately-lobed leaves, ‘Pendula,’ with drooping branches, and ‘Purpurea,’ with purple young leaves.

Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government”. The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”

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Gray birch is an early colonizer of disturbed sites, growing best with little competition from other species. It often forms pure stands from seedlings and root suckers.

Gray birch is usually top-killed by fire, but will resprout from root suckers. The tree can be killed by fire during drought periods when soil organic matter is too dry to protect the roots. The species accumulates abundant seed banks in the soil. Seedling regeneration following fire is probable from the seed banks.

Gray birch is prone to injury by snow and ice.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Cultivation

The preference is full sun, moist to dry-mesic conditions, and sandy soil. This tree develops rapidly, but it is short-lived and prone to storm damage. 
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Other uses and values

More info for the term: tree

The pleasing form, white bark, graceful slender branches, and delicate
foliage make gray birch an attractive tree for ornamental purposes.  Its
desirability is lessened only by its short life and liability to storm
injury [7].  Gray birch also has some value as a "nurse tree" for the
more valuable pines that require protection to become established
[17].

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Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites

More info for the term: hardwood

Its status as a pioneer species and its adaptability to disturbed sites
indicate that gray birch is a good hardwood species for use in
revegetating mine spoils and other disturbed areas.  It has been planted
successfully on acid coal mine spoils in Pennsylvania [35].

Propagation:  Gray birch can be propagated by grafting of cuttings.
Cuttings from seedlings root sooner and at higher rates, although no
percentages have been given [6,19].

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Cover Value

More info for the term: cover

In Maine, gray birch provides hiding cover for the bobcat and hare [23].

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Wood Products Value

More info for the term: fuel

Gray birch is easily worked with tools and is an excellent wood for
turning.  It is used for woodenware such as spools, clothespins, and
novelties.  Gray birch is much less valued than paper birch (B.
papyrifera) because of its small size, short life, and limited
distribution.  Its wood is often used for fuel, and stands can be cut
for firewood at comparatively frequent intervals because of its ability
to regenerate quickly [7,17].

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Importance to Livestock and Wildlife

Beavers and porcupines chew on the bark and wood of gray birch.
Sapsuckers feed on the sap, and songbirds such as the pine siskin and
chickadee feed on the seeds.  The ruffed grouse eat the male catkins and
buds [7,26].  The twigs provide winter browse for snowshoe hare, moose,
and white-tailed deer [30].

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Uses

Conservation: Gray birch is a pioneer species that can tolerate multiple soil conditions. It is a good hardwood species for use in the revegetation of mine spoils and other disturbed areas.

Ethnobotanic: Native Americans used a bark decoction of gray birch on swollen or infected cuts.

Landscaping: Gray birch is an attractive tree that is often used as a winter landscape plant or when space limitations require the use of trees with a smaller stature. It can also be planted as a nurse tree to protect more valuable pines in the landscape that require protection to become established.

Wildlife: Beavers and porcupines chew the bark of gray birch. Sapsuckers consume sap and songbirds consume the seeds. Ruffed grouse eat the catkins and buds. Snowshoe hare, moose, and white-tailed deer browse the twigs. Gray birch also provides cover for the bobcat and hare in Maine.

Wood products: Gray birch is often used for fuel. It is also popularly used for woodenware such as spools, spindles, and other turned articles.

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Wikipedia

Betula populifolia

"Grey Birch" redirects here. For the moth, see Aethalura punctulata.

Betula populifolia (Gray Birch) is a deciduous tree native to North America.

Range: It ranges from southeastern Ontario east to Nova Scotia, and south to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with disjunct populations in Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina. It prefers poor, dry upland soils, but is also found in moist mixed woodlands. Living only about 30 years, it is a common pioneer species on abandoned fields and burned areas.

Characteristics: Gray birch grows quickly to 20 to 30 feet tall and 15 inch trunk diameter, with an irregular open crown of slender branches. The tree often has multiple trunks branching off of an old stump. The leaves are 5-7.5 cm long by 4–6 cm wide, alternately arranged, ovate, and tapering to an elongated tip. They are dark green and glabrous above and paler below, with a coarsely serrated margin.[1] The bark is chalky to grayish white with black triangular patches where branch meets trunk. It is most easily confused for the paper birch (Betula papyrifera) by means of its bark; it is smooth and thin but does not readily exfoliate like paper birch does. The flowers are wind-pollinated catkins 5–8 cm long, the male catkins pendulous and the female catkins erect. The fruit, maturing in autumn, is composed of many tiny winged seeds packed between the catkin bracts.

The wood is medium hard and is used for high grade plywood, furniture, drum shells, spools and firewood.

Like other North American birches, gray birch is highly resistant to the Bronze birch borer (Agrilus anxius).[2] The leaves of the Gray Birch serve as food for various Lepidoptera, such as the leaf miner moth Cameraria betulivora.

Gray Birch has been commonly planted as a landscaping tree in southern Pennsylvania and New Jersey as it tolerates heat and humidity better than Paper Birch and is more resistant to Bronze Birch Borer and leaf miners. On the downside, it lacks the ornamental beauty or longevity of other white-barked birches.

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Reference List[edit]

  1. ^ Hardin, James W., Donald Joseph Leopold, and Fred M. White. Harlow & Harrar's Textbook of Dendrology. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2001. Print.
  2. ^ Nielsen, David G., Vanessa L. Muilenburg, and Daniel A. Herms. "Interspecific Variation in Resistance of Asian, European, and North American Birches (Betula Spp.) to Bronze Birch Borer." Environmental Entomology 40.3 (2011): 648-53. BioOne. Web. 25 Sept. 2013.
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Notes

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Betula populifolia is an important successional tree on burned, cleared, or abandoned land in the Northeast. It is closely related to Betula pendula Roth of Europe, B . neoalaskana of the Northwest, and several Asian taxa. This species is easily distinguished from the paper birch, with which it is often sympatric, by the long tapering apices of its leaves, its nonpeeling bark, and the characteristic expanded, black triangular patches on the trunks below the branches. 

 The Iroquois used Betula populifolia medicinally to treat bleeding piles, and the Micmac, to treat infected cuts and as an emetic (D. E. Moerman 1986).

The blue birches ( Betula × caerulea Blanchard) have been variously considered to represent a true species or a hybrid between B . papyrifera Marshall and B . populifolia Marshall (T. C. Brayshaw 1966) or B . papyrifera and the big blue birch B . caerulea-grandis (M. L. Fernald 1922). Both B . × caerulea and B . caerulea-grandis have been shown in more recent experimental studies to be of hybrid origin between B . cordifolia Regel and B . populifolia (A. G. Guerriero et al. 1970; W. F. Grant and B. K. Thompson 1975; P. E. DeHond and C. S. Campbell 1989). Individuals of these hybrids combine characteristics of the parents, the infructescence scales and leaves somewhat resembling those of B . populifolia , and the habit and exfoliating reddish bark that of B . cordifolia .

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

More info for the term: marsh

The currently accepted scientific name for gray birch is Betula
populifolia Marsh. [22]. There are no recognized subspecies, varieties,
or forms.

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Common Names

gray birch
grey birch
white birch
wire birch
fire birch
oldfield birch

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