birch, or red birch as it sometimes is called, is the only native
birch found at low elevations in the South. It is commonly found,
as its name implies, along waterways, inhabiting deep, rich
soils throughout the state, except in the higher mountains.
River birch leaves are roughly oval, pointed, 1 1/2 to 3 inches
long, with double-toothed margins. It is commonly found on banks
of streams, near ponds and near swamps. It will grow to heights
of 70 to 80 feet and diameters of I to 3 feet. The crown is
irregular and picturesque and is divided where the arching limbs
spread from the main trunk.
The fruit, a strobile, is cylindrical, 1 to 1 1/2 inches long
and 1/2 inch thick. It grows erect (see the foreward for a drawing
of a strobile). River birch is the only birch that produces
mature fruit in the spring.
The bark provides a ready means of distinguishing this tree.
It varies from reddish brown to cinnamon-red in color and peels
back in tough papery layers. These layers persist on the trunk,
presenting a ragged and distinctive appearance. Unlike the bark
birches, the thin, papery layers usually are covered with a
gray powder. On older trees, the bark on the main trunk becomes
thick, deeply furrowed and reddish-brown.
The wood is quite hard and is used in the manufacturing of furniture
and other products, where its close-grained properties make
it valuable. However, if river birch develops while arching
out over a stream, its wood is not acceptable for use in furniture
and other products requiring a smooth finish.