A Tree Whose Name Doesn’t Do It Justice

River Birch

Back when I was working in retail gardening, we called this the river birch. I think most folks still know it by that name. Its botanical is betula nigra which should mean black birch, but who am I to tell folks what to call a tree?

It is a native tree–native to the Eastern United States. And like all birches, it is native to flood plains and swampy soils. So the drought conditions and drier summers that most of us have experienced lately are going to stress younger trees, newly planted trees, and, if they continue long enough, even older established trees.

But that should not deter folks from planting it. It is a lovely tree, and far less prone to the disease and insect infestations of the white birches that so many love. While it will never have the love white trunk of the white birch, it will still have an interesting bark. The bark is lighter when young and darker as the tree ages (hence the nigra in its name).

The down side for those of us in the eastern US is that while its seeds are attractive to many birds, like most birches, it is wind pollinated, so it does contribute to the spring pollen count.

It is also attractive to deer so if you live in an area where deer are a problem for you (and those of us with deer already know who we are) either buy the largest specimen you can afford or skip this tree–don’t get a sapling or it’s likely to become “deer candy”!

In “the wild” the tree can grow to 80 feet but it won’t get that tall in home landscapes. It’s also a fast grower as trees go, but that generally means–as it does in this case–that it will be shorter lived than a maple or oak.

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