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Overview

Brief Summary

Betulaceae -- Birch family

    H. E. Grelen

    The most beautiful of American trees-that's what Prince Maximilian  thought of river birch (Betula nigra) when he toured  North America before he became the short-lived Emperor of Mexico  (11). Also known as red birch, water birch, or black birch (15),  it is the only birch whose range includes the southeastern  coastal plain and is also the only spring-fruiting birch.  Although the wood has limited usefulness, the tree's beauty makes  it an important ornamental, especially at the northern and  western extremes of its natural range.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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H. E. Grelen

Source: Silvics of North America

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Comprehensive Description

Comments

The exfoliating bark of River Birch is very striking and unusual. While other Betula spp. (Birch trees) have this characteristic to a greater or lesser degree, their bark is more white and less brown. River Birch also has the largest seeds of any Birch tree within the state. It is possible, although a bit more tricky, to identify this tree by the angular shape of its leaves
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Description

This native tree is 50-90' at maturity, often forming a trunk that divides early and developing an irregular crown. The trunk bark of older mature trees is gray-brown and scaly, exfoliating only slightly, while the trunk bark of young trees exfoliates extensively, becoming ragged with patches of reddish brown, dull orange, or pinkish tan. The bark of branches and twigs is grayish brown and more smooth, while new shoots are light green and pubescent. The alternate leaves are 2-3" long and 1½–2¼" across; they are ovate-deltate in shape and doubly serrate along the middle to upper margins. Leaf bases are broadly wedge-shaped with smooth margins on either side of the petioles. The upper surface of the leaves is medium to dark green and glabrous, while the lower surface is either pale green, or whitish green and glaucous. Fine hairs are often present along the lower ribs of the central veins. The petioles are about ½" long and pubescent. The blooming period occurs during mid-spring as the leaves develop. Individual trees tree are monoecious with both male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers on separate catkins. Male catkins develop at the tips of twigs in clusters of 2-3; they are 2-3" long, reddish yellow, narrowly cylindrical in shape, and slightly drooping. Individual male flowers are less than 1/8" long, each one consisting of a tiny calyx with 4 lobes and a pair of stamens. In each catkin, the male flowers are partially obscured by tiny bracts. Erect female catkins develop from short spur twigs; they are ¾–1¼" long, ½" across, narrowly ovoid in shape, and covered with fine hairs. Individual female flowers are about 1/8" long, each one consisting of a naked ovary with a pair of styles; neither a calyx nor petals are present. The female flowers are partially obscured by 3-lobed bracts; the narrow lobes of these bracts are nearly equal in size. The flowers are cross-pollinated by the wind. Shortly afterwards, the female catkins turn brown and develop a cone-like appearance, although they remain non-woody. The winged seeds of these catkins mature during late spring to early summer; they are distributed by either wind or water. Individual seeds are broadly ovate, tapering to a slender beak (not including the winged margins), and flattened. The root system is woody and branching. This tree reproduces by reseeding itself.
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Description

General: Birch family (Betulaceae). River birch is a deciduous medium to large-sized native tree. The leaves are alternate, double serrated, wedge-shaped, and sharp pointed. The flowers are unisexual, borne in separate male and female catkins on the same tree. The bark is light brown to buff, paperlike; exfoliating on young trees, turning to scaly bark on older trees.

Distribution: River birch is distributed throughout North America. It extends from southern New

England, west to Kansas and Minnesota, and south to Texas and Florida. For current distribution, please consult the Plant profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

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USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Alternative names

Japanese red birch, black birch, red birch, water birch

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Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Distribution

National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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© NatureServe

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River birch is found throughout the southeastern United States; local
distributions are closely associated with alluvial soils. It is found
from southern New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and Maryland west to
eastern Indiana; north in the Mississippi Valley to Wisconsin and
southeastern Minnesota; south to Missouri, Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma,
and eastern Texas; and east to northern Florida [21,22].

The distribution of river birch within this range excludes the
Appalachian mountains, upland areas in central Tennessee and Kentucky,
south-central Missouri, and the lower Mississippi Valley from
southeastern Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico [21,22].

Locations of disjunct populations as reported by Little [22] include
northeastern Massachussetts/southeastern New Hampshire, western New
York, northern Ohio, northern Illinois, northern Indiana, and
south-central Minnesota. In a study to determine the status of these
disjunct populations, Coyle and others [5] confirmed the northeastern
Massachussetts/southeastern New Hampshire population and three other
naturally reproducing river birch populations outside of the main
distribution: extreme western North Carolina, eastern Kansas, and
northwestern Indiana.
  • 21. Little, Elbert L., Jr. 1971. Atlas of the United States trees. Volume 1. Conifers and important hardwoods. Misc. Publ. 1146. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 320 p. [1462]
  • 22. Little, Elbert L., Jr. 1979. Checklist of United States trees (native and naturalized). Agric. Handb. 541. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 375 p. [2952]
  • 5. Coyle, B. F.; Sharik, T. L.; Feret, P. P. 1983. The utility of range-wide maps for identifying disjunct populations of river birch (Betula nigra L.). Castanea. 48(4): 285-288. [21953]

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Occurrence in North America

AL AR CT DE FL GA IL IN IA KS
KY LA MD MA MN MS MO NH NJ NY
NC OH OK PA SC TN TX VA WV WI

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The primary range of river birch is the southeastern quarter of  the United States from eastern Texas and southeastern Iowa to  Virginia and northern Florida. Scattered populations are found  along rivers and streams as far north as southern Minnesota,  central Wisconsin, and the middle New England States (8). Its  northern limit in the Great Lakes region corresponds to the  boundary of the terminal moraine of the Wisconsin glacier (7).  Major exclusions within the primary range are the southern half  of the Mississippi River flood plain, the lower coastal plain,  the Appalachian Mountains, and limestone areas of southern  Missouri, central Tennessee, and central Kentucky. In western  North Carolina, river birch is found primarily below 550 m (1,800  ft) elevation but has been found as high as 670 m (2,205 ft)  (17). Mountainous exclusions may be related to the scarcity of  alluvium along streams at higher elevations and faster current  streams that sweep seeds downstream (7).

    -
  The native range of river birch.


  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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H. E. Grelen

Source: Silvics of North America

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Ala., Ark., Conn., Del., D.C., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kans., Ky., La., Md., Mass., Minn., Miss., Mo., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Okla., Pa., S.C., Tenn., Tex., Vt., Va., W.Va., Wis.
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© Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Boulevard, St. Louis, MO, 63110 USA

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Adaptation

River birch can survive on drier soils, although it is best adapted to moist soils and is usually found along stream banks and in swampy bottomlands that are periodically flooded. Maximum development is reached in fertile areas with a pH of 6.5 to 4.0. It is intolerant of shade and requires full sunlight.

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USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

More info for the term: tree

River birch is a medium-sized, native, deciduous tree. Isolated
specimens have reached 100 feet (30.5 m), but the usual height range is
50 to 80 feet (15.2-24.4 m) and 24 to 36 inches (61-91 cm) d.b.h. [13].
In Wisconsin, it is usually a small, multistemmed tree [2]. The bark is
separated into thin papery scales, with coarse scales on lower trunks
[7]. It is fairly short-lived [5,34].
  • 7. Duncan, Wilbur H.; Duncan, Marion B. 1988. Trees of the southeastern United States. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press. 322 p. [12764]
  • 2. Barnes, W. J. 1985. Population dynamics of woody plants on a river island. Canadian Journal of Botany. 63: 647-655. [2855]
  • 5. Coyle, B. F.; Sharik, T. L.; Feret, P. P. 1983. The utility of range-wide maps for identifying disjunct populations of river birch (Betula nigra L.). Castanea. 48(4): 285-288. [21953]
  • 13. Grelen, H. E. 1990. Betula nigra L. river birch. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 2. Hardwoods. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 153-157. [21817]
  • 34. Van Dersal, William R. 1938. Native woody plants of the United States, their erosion-control and wildlife values. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. 362 p. [4240]

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Description

Trees , to 25 m; trunks often several, crowns round. Bark of mature trunks and branches grayish brown, yellowish, reddish, or creamy white, smooth, irregularly shredding and exfoliating in shaggy sheets when mature; lenticels dark, horizontally expanded. Twigs without wintergreen taste or odor, glabrous to sparsely pubescent, often with scattered, tiny, resinous glands. Leaf blade rhombic-ovate, with 5--12 pairs of lateral veins, 4--8 × 3--6 cm, base broadly cuneate to truncate, margins coarsely doubly serrate to dentate, apex acuminate; surfaces abaxially moderately pubescent to velutinous, especially along major veins and in vein axils, often with scattered, minute, resinous glands. Infructescences erect, conic or nearly globose, 1.5--3 × 1--2.5 cm, shattering with fruits in late spring or early summer; scales often persistent into early winter, lobes 3, ascending, branching distal to middle, narrow, elongate, equal to somewhat unequal in length, apex acute. Samaras with wings narrower than body, usually broadest near summit, not extended beyond body apically. 2 n = 28.
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Diagnostic Description

Synonym

Betula rubra F. Michaux
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat characteristics

More info for the terms: adventitious, tree

River birch occurs in wide range of climatic conditions. It is
primarily a tree of alluvial soils (Entisols) [13]. River birch occurs
largely on lowlands, floodplains, streambanks, and lake margins.
Typical sites are sandbars and new land near streams, inside the natural
levee or front [15]. It is occasionally found on scattered upland sites
[7]. It is positively associated with clay soils [40]. Soils can be
either well- or poorly drained, as long as they are at or near field
capacity year-round [13,24]. River birch often occurs on soils that are
too acid for most other hardwoods (pH range 2 to 4) [13], but also
occurs on soils of higher pH [37].

River birch is moderately tolerant to flooding [13]. In a laboratory
experiment, river birch seedlings survived up to 30 days of flooding,
forming adventitious roots and prominent lenticel intumescences [32].
Of five floodplain species tested, river birch seedlings were moderately
tolerant of inundation (complete coverage), and tolerant of waterlogging
(soil saturated only) [19]. Mature trees exhibited 77 percent survival
after 240 days of flooding, but none survived 730 days [16]. Seedlings
are stunted by extended periods of flooding, but remain healthy if
flooded for less than 24 percent of the growing season. River birch can
occur in soils that are waterlogged about 50 percent of the time [16,24].
  • 7. Duncan, Wilbur H.; Duncan, Marion B. 1988. Trees of the southeastern United States. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press. 322 p. [12764]
  • 13. Grelen, H. E. 1990. Betula nigra L. river birch. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 2. Hardwoods. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 153-157. [21817]
  • 15. Hodges, John D.; Switzer, George L. 1979. Some aspects of the ecology of southern bottomland hardwoods. In: North America's forests: gateway to opportunity: Proceedings, 1978 joint convention of the Society of American Foresters and the Canadian Institute of Forestry. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters: 360-365. [10028]
  • 16. Hook, D. D. 1984. Waterlogging tolerance of lowland tree species of the South. Southern Journal of Applied Forestry. 8: 136-149. [19808]
  • 19. Jones, Robert H.; Sharitz, Rebecca R.; McLeod, Kenneth W. 1989. Effects of flooding and root competition on growth of shaded bottomland hardwood seedlings. American Midland Naturalist. 121(1): 165-175. [10906]
  • 24. Myers, Charles C.; Buchman, Roland G. 1984. Manager's handbook for elm-ash-cottonwood in the North Central States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-98. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 11 p. [8919]
  • 32. Tripepi, R. R.; Mitchell, C. A. 1984. Stem hypoxia and root respiration of flooded maple and birch seedlings. Physiologia Plantarum. 60(4): 567-571. [12543]
  • 37. Ware, Stewart; Redfearn, Paul L., Jr.; Pyrah, Grant L.; Weber, Wallace R. 1992. Soil pH, topography and forest vegetation in the central Ozarks. American Midland Naturalist. 128(1): 40-52. [19722]
  • 40. Wolfe, Carl B., Jr.; Pittillo, J. Dan. 1977. Some ecological factors influencing the distribution of Betula nigra L. in western North Carolina. Castanea. 42(1): 18-30. [21952]

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Key Plant Community Associations

More info for the terms: codominant, cover, natural

River birch is found in virtually every bottomland cover type, and its
associates can be considered almost all bottomland plants in the
eastern United States [13].

River birch is named as an overstory dominant, codominant, or
indicator species in the following publications:

1. The natural forests of Maryland: an explanation of the vegetation map of
Maryland [3]
2. Forest vegetation of the lower Alabama Piedmont [11]
3. Land classification in the Blue Ridge province: state-of-the-
science report [23]
4. Southern swamps and marshes [25]
5. Classification and evaluation of forest sites in the Cumberland
Mountains [29]
6. Classification and evaluation of forest sites on the Natchez Trace
State Forest, State Resort Park, and Wildlife Managemant Area in west
Tennessee [30]
7. Plant communities of the Coastal Plain of North Carolina and their
successional relations [38]
  • 25. Penfound, William T. 1952. Southern swamps and marshes. The Botanical Review. 18: 413-446. [11477]
  • 3. Brush, Grace S.; Lenk, Cecilia; Smith, Joanne. 1980. The natural forests of Maryland: an explanation of the vegetation map of Maryland. Ecological Monographs. 50(1): 77-92. [19035]
  • 11. Golden, Michael S. 1979. Forest vegetation of the lower Alabama Piedmont. Ecology. 60(4): 770-782. [9643]
  • 13. Grelen, H. E. 1990. Betula nigra L. river birch. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 2. Hardwoods. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 153-157. [21817]
  • 23. McNab, W. Henry. 1991. Land classification in the Blue Ridge province: state-of-the-science report. In: Mengel, Dennis L.; Tew, D. Thompson, eds. Ecological land classification: applications to identify the productive potential of southern forests: Proc. of a symp; 1991 January 7-9; Charlotte, NC. Gen. Tech. Rep. SE-68. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station: 37-47. [15708]
  • 29. Smalley, Glendon W. 1984. Classification and evaluation of forest sites in the Cumberland Mountains. Gen. Tech. Rep. SO-50. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station. 84 p. [9831]
  • 30. Smalley, Glendon W. 1991. Classification & evaluation of forest sites on the Natchez Trace State Forest, State Resort Park, and Wildlife Management Area in w. Tennessee. SO-85. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station. 73 p. [17980]
  • 38. Wells, B. W. 1928. Plant communities of the Coastal Plain of North Carolina and their successional relations. Ecology. 9(2): 230-242. [9307]

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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):

More info for the term: swamp

39 Black ash - American elm - red maple
61 River birch - sycamore
62 Silver maple - American elm
63 Cottonwood
65 Pin oak - sweetgum
87 Sweet gum - yellow-poplar
88 Willow oak - water oak - diamondleaf oak
91 Swamp chestnut oak - cherrybark oak
92 Sweetgum - willow oak
93 Sugarberry - American elm - green ash
94 Sycamore - sweetgum - American elm
95 Black willow
96 Overcup oak - water hickory

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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):

FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood

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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):

K098 Northern floodplain forest
K101 Elm - ash forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest

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Soils and Topography

Although river birch is primarily a plant of alluvial soils  (Entisols), it occasionally becomes established on dry soils. The  western limit of its range coincides roughly with the eastern  boundary of the prairie soils. A study in North Carolina  indicated a positive correlation of total clays with presence of  river birch stands. The same study found that the tree not only  tolerated high soil moisture but also required soils that  maintain soil moisture near field capacity yearlong (17).

    Despite its affinity for water, river birch is only moderately  resistant to flooding, a characteristic that may account for its  absence on much of the Mississippi River flood plain. Its high  tolerance for acid soils is illustrated in Ohio, where it is the  primary invader and dominant on stream bottoms made too acid (pH  2 to 4) for other bottom-land trees by coal mine drainage (10).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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H. E. Grelen

Source: Silvics of North America

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Climate

With its geographic range encompassing almost the eastern half of  the United States, river birch grows throughout a wide range of  climate. It is most abundant in the hot, humid Southeast where  the frost-free season averages from 210 to 270 days and annual  rainfall averages about 1270 mm (50 in). At the northern extreme  of its range in Minnesota and Wisconsin, annual precipitation  averages less than 760 mm (30 in) and the frost-free season is  150 days or less (8).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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H. E. Grelen

Source: Silvics of North America

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Riverbanks and flood plains, often where land is periodically inundated; 0--300m.
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Dispersal

Establishment

Propagation by Seed: Sow seeds in containers or seed trays containing a seed germination medium to which a slow release fertilizer is added. Firm the medium and sow seeds thinly and evenly on top, and cover to desired depth with planting medium (Heuser 1997). Place pots in a sunny location in a cold frame. When seedlings are large enough to handle they should be placed into individual pots and grown in a cold frame for their first winter.

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Associations

Faunal Associations

Many kinds of insects feed on various parts of River Birch and other Betula spp. (birch trees), especially the caterpillars of many moths (see Moth Table). Other insect feeders include the caterpillars of the butterfly Nymphalis antiopa (Mourning Cloak), the larvae of sawflies, the grubs of wood-boring beetles, leaf beetles, plant bugs, shield bugs, leafhoppers (Oncopsis spp.), aphids, and others (see Insect Table for a listing of these species). Among vertebrate animals, some species of birds eat the seeds, buds, or catkins of birch trees; these species include the Ruffed Grouse, Greater Prairie Chicken, Passenger Pigeon (now extinct), Pine Siskin, White-Winged Crossbill, Purple Finch, and Black-Capped Chickadee. The seeds are also eaten by the Red Squirrel. Beavers feed on the wood and bark of River Birch, and they use its branches in the construction of their dams and lodges. White-Tailed Deer browse on the twigs and foliage, while the Cottontail Rabbit gnaws on the bark of saplings and browses on the twigs and foliage of seedlings.
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Associated Forest Cover

As river birch is primarily a streambank tree, a list of its  associates includes practically all bottomland plants in the  eastern half of the United States. Published lists of associated  plants from several states provide an east-to-west cross section  of the range of river birch. Individual lists are from specific  areas, however, and may not be representative of the state as a  whole. Associates reported from more than one state are listed  below (N = North Carolina, O = Ohio, I = Illinois, M = Missouri):

    sycamore -- Platanus occidentalis (N,O,I,M)
  red maple -- Acer rubrum (N,O,I)
  silver maple -- Acer saccharinum (O,I,M)
  black willow -- Salix nigra (N,O,I)
  hazel alder -- Alnus serrulata (N,O,I)
  American hornbeam -- Carpinus caroliniana (N,O)
  honeylocust -- Gleditsia triacanthos (O,I)
  yellow-poplar -- Liriodendron tulipifera (N,O)
  black tupelo -- Nyssa syluatica (O,I)
  black cherry -- Prunus serotina (N,O)
  American elm -- Ulmus americana (O,I)

    Other associated species include sugar maple (Acer saccharum),  boxelder (Acer negundo), yellow buckeye (Aesculus  octandra), water hickory (Carya aquatica), bitternut  hickory (C. cordiformis), mockernut hickory (C.  tomentosa), hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), buttonbush  (Cephalanthus occidentalis), American beech (Fagus  grandifolia), swamp-privet (Forestiera acuminata), ash  (Fraxinus spp.), Carolina silverbell (Halesia  carolina), water-elm (Planera aquatica), eastern  cottonwood (Populus deltoides),
swamp cottonwood (Populus  heterophylla), swamp white oak Quercus bicolor), overcup  oak (Q. lyrata), bur oak (Q. macrocarpa), swamp  chestnut oak Q. michauxii), pin oak (Q. palustris),  northern red oak (Q. rubra), baldcypress (Taxodium  distichum), and American basswood Tilia americana).

    A forest cover type, River Birch-Sycamore (Society of American  Foresters Type 61), has been described as growing along streams  or lake shores with several of the associated species named  above. River birch also is listed with associated vegetation in  Cottonwood (Type 63) and Sycamore-Sweetgum-American Elm (Type 94)  but undoubtedly occurs in most bottom-land types within its range  (4).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Source: Silvics of North America

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Diseases and Parasites

Damaging Agents

Floods and floating ice  periodically destroy or damage young riverbank stands of river  birch, but young trees are usually free of serious disease.  Anthracnose leaf blight caused by the fungus Gloeosporium  betularum is the principal leaf disease. Christmas mistletoe  (Phoradendron serotinum) is a common pest in the South  because of the tree's preference for low, wet sites. It is  usually disease-free unless old or damaged (5). Although river  birch is host to several species of insects, it has no serious  insect pests.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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H. E. Grelen

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General Ecology

Fire Management Considerations

Prescribed fires are not recommended for the bottomland hardwoods in
which river birch occurs. These forests are dependent on fire exclusion
for successful reproduction. Fire is damaging to most mature hardwoods,
causing wounds that can reduce the vigor and economic value of the trees
[24,27].
  • 24. Myers, Charles C.; Buchman, Roland G. 1984. Manager's handbook for elm-ash-cottonwood in the North Central States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-98. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 11 p. [8919]
  • 27. Putnam, John A. 1951. Management of bottomland hardwoods. Occasional Paper 116. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station. 60 p. [6748]

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Plant Response to Fire

More info for the term: marsh

Repeated fires will probably eliminate river birch from a stand. In
Wisconsin, river birch occurred on a number of floodplain locations, but
did not occur in a neighboring low marsh that had been subjected to
repeated grass fires [39].
  • 39. Whitford, Philip Clason. 1990. River birch in central Wisconsin: a case study of colonization. Michigan Botanist. 29(4): 115-120. [21951]

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Immediate Effect of Fire

More info for the terms: fire severity, severity

Information on the relationship between fire severity and damage to
river birch is lacking. Seedlings and saplings of river birch are
probably killed or top-killed by most surface fires. Severe fires will
injure or kill mature trees. In southern Illinois, a barren on which
river birch occurred was subjected to four prescribed fires from 1969 to
1973, after which no fires of any kind occurred. Large river birch
trees apparently survived these spring fires, but seedlings were killed [1].
  • 1. Anderson, Roger C.; Schwegman, John E. 1991. Twenty years of vegetational change on a southern Illinois barren. Natural Areas Journal. 11(2): 100-107. [16256]

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Post-fire Regeneration

More info for the term: root sucker

Tree with adventitious-bud root crown/soboliferous species root sucker
Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)

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Fire Ecology

More info for the terms: hardwood, resistance, shrub

River birch occurs in bottomland hardwood forests that are usually
subject only to surface fires. Fire occurs approximately every 5
to 8 years, when climatic drought extends a dry summer into the fall,
creating conditions in which surface fires can cause great damage.
Surface fires in these bottomlands usually move rapidly, consuming
abundant shrub and herbaceous materials. Seedlings and small saplings
of all species are usually killed by these fires. Larger trees can be
scorched, leaving wounds that can develop into catfaces and are points of
entry for rot, stain, and insects. Under extreme conditions, large
trees of all species may be killed [27].

River birch is ranked intermediate in ecological fire tolerance by
Givnish [10]. This ranking is based on its occurrence on sites that
either have short fire-free intervals or recently experienced fire.

River birch that has been top-killed by fire usually sprouts from the
root crown. Sites cleared by fire may be seeded by nearby trees,
provided that adequate flooding occurs to carry acorns.

Of 13 species tested, river birch bark was intermediate in heat
resistance in the 0.20-inch- (0.508-mm-) thick category, but ranked
relatively lower with increasing bark thicknesses; even though the heat
resistance of river birch bark increases with thickness, other tree
species gain more heat resistance for the same amount of thickness gain
[14].
  • 10. Givnish, Thomas J. 1981. Serotiny, geography, and fire in the pine barrens of New Jersey. Evolution. 35(1): 101-123. [8634]
  • 14. Hare, Robert C. 1965. Contribution of bark to fire resistance of southern trees. Journal of Forestry. 63(4): 248-251. [9915]
  • 27. Putnam, John A. 1951. Management of bottomland hardwoods. Occasional Paper 116. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station. 60 p. [6748]

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Successional Status

More info on this topic.

River birch is intolerant of shade. It is an early pioneer on stream
bank alluvium, and requires high soil moisture coupled with no shade for
germination and establishment [13]. River birch may be the initial
colonizer of sandbars, or may establish after sandbars are stabilized by
more flood-tolerant alders (Alnus spp.) or willows (Salix spp.) [25].
In Maryland, small stream valleys with shallow surface water are
colonized by hazel alder (Alnus serrulata), and then invaded by river
birch [17]. River birch is the most common species on disturbed
streambanks in Tennessee. It readily establishes on the soils exposed
by stream channelization projects and remains important for a number of
years, even after canopy closure [18]. Myers and Buchman [24] classify
river birch stands as subclimax; river birch usually follows willows and
is replaced by other hardwoods, generally oaks.
  • 25. Penfound, William T. 1952. Southern swamps and marshes. The Botanical Review. 18: 413-446. [11477]
  • 13. Grelen, H. E. 1990. Betula nigra L. river birch. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 2. Hardwoods. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 153-157. [21817]
  • 17. Hotchkiss, Neil; Stewart, Robert E. 1947. Vegetation of the Patuxent Research Refuge, Maryland. American Midland Naturalist. 38(1): 1-75. [22000]
  • 18. Hupp, Cliff R. 1992. Riparian vegetation recovery patterns following stream channelization: a geomorphic perspective. Ecology. 73(4): 1209-1226. [19499]
  • 24. Myers, Charles C.; Buchman, Roland G. 1984. Manager's handbook for elm-ash-cottonwood in the North Central States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-98. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 11 p. [8919]

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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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Regeneration Processes

Good seed crops are usually produced annually [13]. The winged seeds
are wind or water disseminated. Water dissemination is probably more
important because water deposits the seeds on moist shores favorable to
germination and establishment [39]. The seeds germinate rapidly in
moist alluvial soil, often in large numbers, forming thickets on
sandbars [13]. The seeds are apparently viable only a few days [24].
However, Koevenig [42] reported that seeds with the fruit wall and seed
coat removed will germinate even after 5 months in storage. He
concluded that a germination inhibitor builds up in either the fruit
wall or seed coat.

River birch does not spread vegetatively, but multiple stems arising
from stump sprouts are common [13]. Because of this, river birch is
resilient to flood damage. On a frequently flooded site in Wisconsin,
77 percent of river birch stems were of sprout origin, and the remainder
were from seedlings [2].
  • 2. Barnes, W. J. 1985. Population dynamics of woody plants on a river island. Canadian Journal of Botany. 63: 647-655. [2855]
  • 13. Grelen, H. E. 1990. Betula nigra L. river birch. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 2. Hardwoods. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 153-157. [21817]
  • 24. Myers, Charles C.; Buchman, Roland G. 1984. Manager's handbook for elm-ash-cottonwood in the North Central States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-98. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 11 p. [8919]
  • 39. Whitford, Philip Clason. 1990. River birch in central Wisconsin: a case study of colonization. Michigan Botanist. 29(4): 115-120. [21951]
  • 42. Koevenig, James L. 1976. Effect of climate, soil physiography and seed germination on the distribution of river birch (Betula nigra). Rhodora. 78(815): 420-437. [21950]

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Reaction to Competition

River birch is most commonly  classed as intolerant of shade. This characteristic precludes  uneven-aged management of the species, although no record has  been found of commercial planting for wood production. Thick  natural stands often stagnate at an early age; nearly 20,000  3-month-old seedlings were counted in a 3.3 m² (36 ft²)  plot on a Mississippi River bottom in Wisconsin (7).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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H. E. Grelen

Source: Silvics of North America

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Rooting Habit

No information available.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Source: Silvics of North America

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Phenology

More info on this topic.

Male catkins are formed on twig tips in the fall and mature the
following April or May. Female catkins appear with the leaves and open
in early spring. The fruit matures in late spring or early summer, and
is dispersed upon maturity [13].
  • 13. Grelen, H. E. 1990. Betula nigra L. river birch. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 2. Hardwoods. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 153-157. [21817]

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Flowering/Fruiting

Flowering late spring.
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Reproduction

Vegetative Reproduction

No information available.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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H. E. Grelen

Source: Silvics of North America

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Seedling Development

Germination of river birch  seeds is best (about 35 percent) with unstratified seeds under  artificial light (1). Germination is epigeal. During early  stages, seedlings are fast-growing and have a high soil-moisture  requirement. Because of abundant seed production, rapid  germination, and vigorous early growth, river birch is one of the  pioneer species of new forests growing on stream bank alluvium  (17). Germination and development, as well as growth at all  stages, is inhibited by even moderate shade (3). Despite the high  moisture requirement of seedlings, river birch can tolerate  flooding no more than 3 months during the growing season (14).  Stumps of young trees sprout vigorously (5).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Seed Production and Dissemination

Seeds of river  birch are the largest of all the birches native to the United  States, averaging 826,700/kg (375,000/lb). Each seed is about 4  mm (0. 15 in) long by 3 mm (0. 12 in) wide, excluding the wings.  The small, winged seeds are transported by wind or by the streams  along which river birch grows most abundantly. Seeds germinate  rapidly in moist alluvial soil and often form thickets on  sandbars.

    Seeds can be collected by picking or stripping the "cones"  (strobili) while they are still green enough to prevent  shattering. Seeds are removed by flailing and screening or  fanning.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Flowering and Fruiting

River birch is monoecious;  separate male and female flowers are on the same plants. Clusters  of poll en-producing male (staminate) catkins are formed at twig  tips in fall and mature in April or May of the following year.  Pollen production is abundant (birch pollen is a heavy  contributor to the hay fever problem) (13). Female (pistillate)  seed-producing catkins are borne on spur-shoots and appear with  the leaves. The flowers open in early spring and the fruit  matures in late spring or early summer. It is the only birch that  does not produce seed in fall. Good seed crops occur almost every  year.

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Growth

Growth and Yield

Information on growth and yield of river  birch is scarce because most commercial use of the tree comes  from natural stands, and wood of river birch is combined with  that of other birches, beech, and maples (3). The clear bole is  relatively short, with several ascending major branches arising  from 4.6 to 6.1 m (15 to 20 ft) above the ground. Multiple stems,  probably originating from stump sprouts, are common and tend to  have basal sweep. In the lower Mississippi River Valley,  isolated trees attain heights of 30.5 m (100 ft) and diameters of  150 cm (60 in). Average merchantable size, however, is 15.2 to  24.4 m (50 to 80 ft) tall and 61 to 91 cm (24 to 36 in) in d.b.h.  In Ohio, 58-year-old river birches grown in plantations average  23 to 41 cm (9 to 16 in) in d.b.h. and 15.5 m (51 ft) tall. Trees  of the same age grown in the open with no competition from other  trees are 58 to 76 cm (23 to 30 in) in d.b.h. and 15.2 to 19.8 m  (50 to 65 ft) tall (11).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Genetics

Population Differences    There are few genetic studies of river birch but parent trees from  Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky varied randomly in leaf and seed  characteristics. Their progenies also varied in leaf traits, and  first-year seedling height was correlated with annual diameter  growth of the parent trees (12). Texas stands varied  significantly in wood specific gravity, and the variation was  correlated with diameter growth. Single-tree progenies also  varied significantly in height growth (6). Thus, it appears  possible to increase both growth and specific gravity of river  birch by selecting for fast diameter growth.

    Hybrids    Natural hybrids between river birch and paper birch (Betula  papyrifera) have been reported but have never been verified  and appear unlikely because interspecific hybridization involving  river birch is very difficult. River birch has been crossed with

    sweet birch (B. lenta), gray birch (B. populifolia),  paper birch (B. papyrifera), resin birch (B.  glandulosa), and low birch (B. pumila var. glandulifera)  and with the following introduced species: B. ermani Cham.,  B. raddeana Trautv., B. pendula Roth, B.  pubescens Ehrh., B. platyphylla Sukachev, and B.  maximowicziana Regel. Seed yield and viability have been low  and growth has been poor. In general, crossing attempts are more  likely to succeed if river birch is the female parent (2).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Betula nigra

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 nigra

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

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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Status

Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as, state noxious status and wetland indicator values.

Public Domain

USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Management

Management considerations

River birch is not planted for commercial purposes, but could be managed
using even-aged systems [13]. In Mississippi, river birch occurred in a
13-year-old stand of mixed hardwoods that established on an old field.
River birch responded to thinning and exhibited faster growth than
sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), the target species [41]. If left
unpruned, it often becomes multitrunked in its first or second year,
breaking at ground level into several splayed stems [4].

Clearcutting promotes regeneration of the early seral bottomland
hardwoods in which river birch is found; advance regeneration does not
occur in these intolerant species. To avoid extremes of soil loss and
lowered water quality, stands should not be harvested within 50 feet
(15.2 m) of streams [24].

River birch is more disease resistant and heat tolerant than other
birches [4]. It is one of a number of deciduous species that are
favored by gypsy moth larvae at all stages of larval development [12].
  • 4. Carlsmith, Anne. 1983. The river birch. Arnoldia. 44(1): 28-31. [21954]
  • 12. Gottschalk, Kurt W.; Twery, Mark J. 1989. Gypsy moth impacts in pine-hardwood mixtures. In: Waldrop, Thomas A., ed. Proceedings of pine-hardwood mixtures: a symposium on management and ecology of the type; 1989 April 18-19; Atlanta, GA. Gen. Tech. Rep. SE-58. Asheville, SC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station: 50-58. [10257]
  • 13. Grelen, H. E. 1990. Betula nigra L. river birch. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 2. Hardwoods. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 153-157. [21817]
  • 24. Myers, Charles C.; Buchman, Roland G. 1984. Manager's handbook for elm-ash-cottonwood in the North Central States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-98. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 11 p. [8919]
  • 41. McGarity, R. W. 1979. Young sweetgum responds to early merchantable thinning. Southern Journal of Applied Forestry. 3(4): 157-160. [10617]

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

Readily available through commercial nurseries. 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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Fertilize young trees in late winter before new growth begins to ensure faster growth. Don’t prune this birch and other birches until summer because they are “bleeders” and should not be cut when the sap is flowing.

River birch is quite disease resistant but has severe problems in early spring with aphids and is favored by gypsy moth larvae.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Cultivation

This tree prefers full or partial sun and moist conditions. It tolerates various kinds of soil, including those containing loam, clay, gravel, and silt. A very acid soil (pH 2-4) is tolerated surprising well, while very alkaline soil (pH above 7) should be avoided. Seeds should be planted while they are still fresh in moist soil and require the presence of strong light to germinate. River Birch is more resistant to Agrilus anxius (Bronze Birch Borer) than most Betula spp. (Birch trees), which is a major insect pest of these trees. Range & Habitat
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Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites

More info for the terms: cover, reclamation

River birch is used for strip mine reclamation and erosion control [13].
It is well suited for moderately to poorly drained minesoils,
particularly where soils are too acid for other hardwoods. In Missouri,
river birch has better form on acid sites than it does on better sites
with heavier ground cover [36]. In West Virginia, river birch
established on mine refuse sites that had been covered with a layer of
seed-containing topsoil from neighboring areas. It was not determined
if river birch seeds were in the soil seedbank or disseminated from
nearby trees [26].
  • 13. Grelen, H. E. 1990. Betula nigra L. river birch. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 2. Hardwoods. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 153-157. [21817]
  • 26. Pollio, Carol A.; Davidson, Walter H. 1992. Native seed bank Brooklyn Reclamation Project. Park Science. 12(1): 10-11. [17787]
  • 36. Vogel, Willis G. 1981. A guide for revegetating coal minespoils in the eastern United States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-68. Broomall, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 190 p. [15577]

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Importance to Livestock and Wildlife

More info for the term: cover

A number of species of birds eat river birch seeds including ruffed
grouse and wild turkey [34]. White-tailed deer browse river birch [13].
The bottomland hardwoods in which river birch occurs are prime wildlife
habitat, providing nesting sites for waterfowl, and food and cover for
many animals [24].
  • 13. Grelen, H. E. 1990. Betula nigra L. river birch. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 2. Hardwoods. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 153-157. [21817]
  • 24. Myers, Charles C.; Buchman, Roland G. 1984. Manager's handbook for elm-ash-cottonwood in the North Central States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-98. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 11 p. [8919]
  • 34. Van Dersal, William R. 1938. Native woody plants of the United States, their erosion-control and wildlife values. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. 362 p. [4240]

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Wood Products Value

More info for the term: fuel

River birch wood is hard, strong, and close-grained. It is, however, of
limited commercial value since it is usually too knotty to be used for
lumber [7,13]. Its main uses are for local furniture manufacture,
basket materials, small woodenware, and fuel. River birch is
occasionally harvested with other bottomland species for pulpwood [7],
and is used in some areas for veneer [6]. Since the wood is strong and
lighter than commercially important birches, it is suitable for
artificial limbs and toys [13].
  • 7. Duncan, Wilbur H.; Duncan, Marion B. 1988. Trees of the southeastern United States. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press. 322 p. [12764]
  • 13. Grelen, H. E. 1990. Betula nigra L. river birch. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 2. Hardwoods. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 153-157. [21817]
  • 6. Curtis, John T. 1959. The vegetation of Wisconsin. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press. 657 p. [7116]

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Other uses and values

River birch is planted as an ornamental, especially in the Northeast and
Midwest [7]. It is well suited for damp ground, but is also somewhat
drought tolerant [4].
  • 7. Duncan, Wilbur H.; Duncan, Marion B. 1988. Trees of the southeastern United States. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press. 322 p. [12764]
  • 4. Carlsmith, Anne. 1983. The river birch. Arnoldia. 44(1): 28-31. [21954]

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Special Uses

River birch is used mainly for local enterprises such as the  manufacture of inexpensive furniture, basket hoops, and turned  articles. Experiments in North Carolina did not indicate that it  is desirable for commercial pulpwood production, but naturally  occurring merchantable-sized trees are often harvested for  pulpwood when mixed with other bottomland hardwoods. Strength of  the wood makes it suitable for the manufacture of artificial  limbs and children's toys. As the wood weighs about 560 kg/m³  (35 lb/ft³), it is somewhat lighter than commercially  important birches (3). Because of its tolerance to acid soils,  river birch has been used successfully in strip mine reclamation.  It has also been used in erosion control (13). Its graceful form,  attractive bark, and high resistance to the bronze birch borer  (Agrilus anxius) make it desirable for ornamental  planting, especially in the Northeastern and Midwestern States.  Young bark varies in color from silvery gray to light reddish  brown or cinnamon colored and is lustrous with darker, narrow,  longitudinal lenticels. Bark on fast-growing young trees may peel  into papery strips. On older trees, bark on branches may be gray,  smooth, and shiny; on the main trunk it may vary from dark  reddish brown to gray or almost black with inch-thick irregular  scales (fig. 3). Seeds are sometimes eaten by birds and the  foliage is browsed by white-tailed deer (15).

  • Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods.   Agriculture Handbook 654 (Supersedes Agriculture Handbook 271,Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States, 1965).   U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. vol.2, 877 pp.   http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/table_of_contents.htm External link.
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H. E. Grelen

Source: Silvics of North America

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Uses

Economic: River birch sap can be fermented to make birch beer or vinegar. The wood is used to manufacture inexpensive furniture, woodenware, wooden shoes, basket materials, toys, staves, and fuel.

Ethnobotanic: The leaves were chewed, or used as an infusion in the treatment of dysentery. An infusion of the bark was used to treat stomach problems and difficult urination (Moerman 1998).

Landscaping &Wildlife: Betula nigra is a very attractive ornamental tree. It is a desirable specimen for estates, golf courses, parks, and public grounds. Many species of birds eat the seeds including wild turkey and grouse. The leaves are browsed by white-tailed deer.

Conservation: River birch is used for strip mine reclamation and erosion control (Grelen 1990). It is used in forested riparian buffers to help reduce stream bank erosion, protect water quality, and enhance aquatic environments.

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USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Wikipedia

Betula nigra

Betula nigra (black birch, river birch, water birch) is a species of birch native to the Eastern United States from New Hampshire west to southern Minnesota, and south to northern Florida and west to Texas. It is one of the few heat-tolerant birches in a family of mostly cold-weather trees which do not thrive in USDA Zone 6 and up. B. nigra commonly occurs in flood plains and/or swamps.[1] It is a deciduous tree growing to 25 to 30 metres (82 to 98 ft) with a trunk 50 to 150 centimetres (20 to 59 in) in diameter, often with multiple trunks. The bark is variable, usually dark gray-brown to pinkish-brown and scaly, but in some individuals, smooth and creamy pinkish-white, exfoliating in curly papery sheets. The twigs are glabrous or thinly hairy. The leaves are alternate, ovate, 4–8 cm (1.5–3 in) long and 3–6 cm (1.2–2.4 in) broad, with a serrated margin and five to twelve pairs of veins. The flowers are wind-pollinated catkins 3–6 cm (1.2–2.4 in) long, the male catkins pendulous, the female catkins erect. The fruit is unusual among birches in maturing in late spring; it is composed of numerous tiny winged seeds packed between the catkin bracts.[1][2]

Cultivation and uses[edit]

While its native habitat is wet ground, it will grow on higher land, and its bark is quite distinctive, making it a favored ornamental tree for landscape use. A number of cultivars with much whiter bark than the normal wild type have been selected for garden planting, including 'Heritage' and 'Dura Heat'; these are notable as the only white-barked birches resistant to the bronze birch borer Agrilus anxius in warm areas of the southeastern United States of America.[3]

Trunk of a River Birch
Middle of the tree
River Birch Leaves & Seeds

Native Americans used the boiled sap as a sweetener similar to maple syrup, and the inner bark as a survival food. It is usually too contorted and knotty to be of value as a timber tree.[3]

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Flora of North America: Betula nigra
  2. ^ USDA Silvics Manual: Betula nigra
  3. ^ a b Harlow, W. M., & Harrar, E. S. (1969). Textbook Of Dendrology 5th ed., LOC# 68-17188
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Source: Wikipedia

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Notes

Comments

Betula nigra is a large and characteristic floodplain tree. Like several other species of this habitat (e.g., Acer saccharinum Marshall and Ulmus americana Linnaeus), it releases its fruits in early summer; the seeds germinate immediately (at a time when the surrounding land is unlikely to be flooded). The wood of Betula nigra is not in high demand for timber because of its generally poor quality. Cultivars with freely exfoliating bark are commonly cultivated in the Northeast and Midwest. 

 Native Americans used Betula nigra medicinally to treat dysentery, colds, and milky urine (D. E. Moerman 1986).

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© Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Boulevard, St. Louis, MO, 63110 USA

Source: Missouri Botanical Garden

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Common Names

river birch
red birch
black birch
water birch

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The currently accepted scientific name for river birch is Betula nigra
L. [22,35]. There are no accepted subspecies, varieties, or forms.
  • 35. Vines, Robert A. 1960. Trees, shrubs, and woody vines of the Southwest. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. 1104 p. [7707]
  • 22. Little, Elbert L., Jr. 1979. Checklist of United States trees (native and naturalized). Agric. Handb. 541. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 375 p. [2952]

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