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This birch is valued for its columnar, slender growth habit with striking white to gray bark. Thin branches and smaller leaves give a delightfully delicate appearance that is enhanced in fall by golden-yellow foliage. Gray birch is state-listed as threatened in Ohio and extinct or endangered in several states.


Found naturalized in moist soil along stream banks or swamp edges as part of a mixed stand of trees. Beautiful erosion control for moist pond, lake, or stream banks.


Plant Characteristics:

Fast-growing to 20-40’ tall.


Needs full sun for best growth.


Prefers dry to moist, well-drained soils; does well on rocky slopes and hillsides.


When sited in full sun with shaded, moist soil, gray birch can live 150-200 years old. Because of poor shade tolerance and rapid growth, it can also be planted as a pioneer species, affording protection and enriching the soil with organic matter to support the seedlings of valuable but slower-growing trees.


Wildlife Value:

Host for 317 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including the lettered habrosyne and birch dagger moths, and the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (in order here preceded by their caterpillars). Gray birch trees provide food and breeding habitat for numerous species of birds, including hummingbirds, and brown creepers, who often choose them for nesting sites. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers drill the trunks for sap, and the resultant slow-dripping sap attracts small insects. Hummingbirds then feed on the insects and the sap. Small, upright cones release seed in early spring, providing food at a time of scarcity for pileated woodpeckers, black-capped chickadees, songbirds, pine siskins, red squirrels and various other species of birds and small mammals. Young saplings are a favorite browse of white-tailed deer and rabbits. Beaver and porcupine chew the bark.



Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Various tribes of Native American Indians made a decoction from the bark for blood purification, skin ailments, and as a cathartic.


The trunk can be tapped in early spring before the leaves unfurl to collect birch water that can be reduced to syrup or fermented to make birch beer or vinegar. A wintergreen-flavored tea can be made from the twigs and leaves. The leaves make a unique and beautiful addition to salads. The inner bark can be dried and ground into a powder for making cereals or bread.


The wood of this birch is prized because of the ease with which it can be carved, turned, stained, and polished. In the past it was valued for its ability to regenerate after being cut down. Yellow birch chips can be used to produce ethanol and other products.

Birch, Gray, Betula populifolia

SKU: 13
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