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Betula nigra Linnaeus

Common names: river birch, red birch.
Family: Betulaceae.

Brief description:
A small to medium-sized, deciduous tree, commonly ranging from 15–25 m (50–80 ft.) tall when mature. Bark is salmon-pink to creamy white, tan, grayish brown or reddish brown and separating in irregular sheets, becoming dark brown and furrowed on older trees. Leaves are alternate, relatively small (mostly 4–8 cm long), and more or less arrowhead shaped. The leaf margins are variously toothed, except for the base of the leaf blade, which is entire. Flowers are arranged in separate male and female catkins that occur on the same tree, the dangling male catkins forming during the summer and persisting on the tree through the winter. Fruits are brown or tan, small (3–7 mm long) samaras that are borne in dense, cylinder-shaped structures that look like cones. (Botanically, however, these are not cones since, unlike the conifers, the seeds are produced by small flowers.) River birch is common along the rivers and streams of the Piedmont, sometimes hanging far out over the water. Easily recognizable by it’s exfoliating or roughly furrowed bark.

USDA Profile

Herbarium sheet images:
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Live specimen images:

• Branchlet with leaves • Individual leaf • Branchlet with pistillate flowers • Branchlet with buds and staminate catkins • Close-up of bud and staminate catkins •

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