River birch (Betula nigra)

River birch leaves

Click on the images help you identify an River birch.

Form

Height 40' to 60' with a diameter of up to 24"; a mature tree usually has a short trunk that divides into several large ascending limbs that compose an open, irregular crown of slender drooping branchlets.

Bark

Dark brown at base of old trunks, deeply furrowed; higher up on main stem and on larger branches, becomes lustrous reddish brown; peels more or less freely; twigs, reddish color with white dots (lenticels).

Leaf

Simple, alternate on stem, length 1-1/2" to 3"; more or less triangular with double-toothed edges; upper surface dark green, lower surface pale yellow green; turns yellow in autumn.

Fruit (seed)

Winged nutlets densely crowded into a cone-shaped catkin about 1" long; ripens in late spring or early summer.

Range

Grows along rich bottom lands of streams and rivers in the southeastern corner of the state, especially in the Mississippi and Root River valleys; common along Mississippi River as far as Wabasha County; also reported near Mankato; shade intolerant, moderately fast growing.

Wood uses

Light brown, close-grained, hard, and strong; used in the manufacture of furniture; however, since this tree is scattered in its distribution and mostly confined to banks of streams, it does not figure largely in commercial lumbering but is used to a great extent for fuel. Used in erosion control projects and ornamental plantings. Only native birch resistant to the bronze birch borer.