River Birch

A native tree to Frederick County which is more common to the south is the river birch (Betula nigra). River birch normally grows along stream bottoms in conjunction with trees like sycamore, silver maple, green ash, willow, hackberry, and box elder to name a few. River birch needs plenty of sunlight to grow and will not tolerate shady conditions very long. The river birch has the most southerly distribution of any of the other native birches and it is somewhat peculiar in that it develops its wind borne seed pods “catkins” in the spring unlike most birch that produce catkins in the fall. River birch has whitish – pink exfoliating bark similar in appearance to the white and paper birch of the north, with the river birch having more of a pink coloration. In Frederick County northward the river birch is a medium sized tree rarely growing above 70 feet tall. In the southern part of its range the birch grows much larger easily attaining a height of 100 feet tall.

Credit: frederick.forestryboard.org - Bethany Dell'Agnello

River birch wood is light weight but very strong. In the Carolina’s river birch is often used in the making of baskets. River birch seedlings are often used in reforestation projects around streams and wetlands since it grows fast, is very hardy, and it can withstand seasonally wet conditions. Many ornamental cultivars of the river birch have been developed such as the Heritage birch, for landscape plantings since this tree is not susceptible to the bronze birch borer like the white or paper birch. Along with the river birch, both the black and yellow birches are native to Frederick County.

Article by Mike Kay, FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 6/11/22