Black birch is a native species to the Appalachian region of the United States. It is often found growing alongside the related yellow birch, which is a closely genetically related species. Efforts to cross the black birch and yellow birch have been successful, though the hybrid generation has low vigor and low seed germination rates.
Black birch trees are classified as intolerant of shade and in densely populated areas where there is no access to sunlight, the trees will succumb to competition. Black birch are also susceptible to fire damage. However, the black birch is not very susceptible to winter killing and is moderately resistant to drought. Specifically, the black birch is fairly resistant to glaze (ice) in comparison to other hardwood species of the northern hemisphere. Ice damage usually causes death of black birch by making the tree more susceptible to wood decaying organisms. Several species fungi and leaf-feeding insects attack the black birch and can cause decay and/or disease, ultimately proving lethal. The most important fungi include white trunk rot (Phellinus igniarius), yellow cap fungus (Pholiota limonella), and Nectria canker (Nectria galligena), while the most prevalent leaf-eating insects include birch tubemaker (Acrobasis betulella), birch skeletonizer (Bucculatrix canadensisella), oriental moth (Cnidocampa flavescens), gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), and dusky birch sawfly (Croesus latitarsus).
Black birch has many commercial uses. At one point, the black birch was the only source of oil of wintergreen, an essential oil known for its antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, insecticidal, and antioxidant properties. The wintergreen oil (methyl salicylate) is distilled from the wood of the black birch. Today, the use of the black birch for essential oil has declined as synthetic oil products have gained popularity. The hard, heavy lumber and veneer of bark is used commercially (furniture, cabinets, boxes, woodenware, handles). Not only is the wood valuable for its hardness, but when air it darkens to a color resembling mahogany and, in times past, was used as an inexpensive substitute for mahogany. An additional commercial use for the black birch is paper; paper pulp from the black birch is used in conjunction with paper pulp from other species to produce various types of paper products (e.g. boxboards, newsprint paper, paper towels, etc.).