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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > Sweet Birch

Sweet Birch

(Betula lenta L)

  Sweet birch, also known as black birch or cherry birch, occurs only in the highlands and mountains of our state. This tree develops best in mountain coves and on rich slopes, where it reaches an average height of 50 to 60 feet and a diameter of 2 to 3 feet.

Sweet birch leaves are oval to oblong, 2 1/2 to 5 inches long and are sharply toothed. Stems of the leaves are hairy, and tufts of hair occur in the axils of the veins on the undersides of the leaves.

The fruit is oblong, erect, scaly, about I to 1 1/2 inches long and 1/2 inch thick. The bark of the trunk is reddish-brown, with prominent horizontal lenticels. (A lenticel is a small opening in the bark of a twig; the opening usually is surrounded by rough, corky tissue.) The bark becomes almost black with maturity. On mature trees, the bark is dull and breaks into large irregular but not papery plates.

The small branches and twigs, also dark in color, are shiny and very aromatic. The wood is hard, heavy and close-grained. It is used in furniture manufacturing, often being sold as "mahogany," and for interior trimming. Aromatic oils and flavorings (Wintergreen) are obtained from the wood, bark and sap of this tree. Sweet birch is considered inferior to yellow birch for manufacturing purposes but is considered one of the best for firewood because of its wintergreen odor.
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