River Birch

River Birch
Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
The newly developed Science Hill, overlooking Hillhouse Ave., is filled with trees and shrubs, including several Betula nigra, or river birch, individuals. This specimen, located just across from Kroon Hall, is situated in a small garden area next to a ramp and walkway, distanced but within eyesight of the Forest Garden (between Kroon and Sage halls). The young (in 2021) river birch has five trunks, and is approximately 5.08m tall. Due to its age, this river birch sheds its bark in thin and loose curls every spring in preparation for the new growing season.
Izzy Lopez, Jaeger Johnson, Renee Tung
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
5.08 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.16 m

The bark often peels during springtime for young trees (as is this one, updated 2021). The paper-like barks sheds, revealing a soft pink or white bark underneath, and the shedding itself is brown and brittle. As the tree ages, the bark becomes thicker and rougher, loosing the curling seen in younger trees. The bark eventually compresses and forms scales with deep furrows in between.
Twigs & branches
The branches of the tree point upwards (and slightly lateral) to form an open / oval tree shape.
The river birch has simple leaves arranged in an alternating fashion. They have an ovate shape with pinnate venation, an acute base/apex, and doubly serrate margins.
Reproductive Structures
The blooming season usually occurs midspring and the birch trees are monoecious. The male and female flowers are found on different catkins. The male catkins are 2 to 3 inches long and form in clusters.
The female catkins form cone shaped fruits called strobiles. The seeds from the fruit are dispersed by wind.
Natural range of distribution: 
The river birch grows primarily in the southeastern United States, but does also exist in the New England region and Great Lakes region. As hinted by its name, river birches tend to grow near streams in bottomlands where there are often alluvial deposits. It tends to thrive more in warmer climates such as the Southeast, where the frost-free season spans from 210 to 270 days and rainfall averages about 1270 mm. However, it does live in norther ranges where annual precipitation averages less than 760 mm and the frost-free season is 150 days or less (Grelen).
Origin, history, and uses: 

The river birch is the only birch whose range includes the southeastern coastal plain and is also the only spring-fruiting birch. It’s beauty and its high resistance to the bronze birch borer makes it an attractive ornamental tree that is often a desired addition to estates, golf courses, parks and other common grounds. It also attracts a variety of wildlife, since deers often feed on its leaves and many species of birds eat its seeds.The birch is also used for erosion control and is successfully used in strip mine reclamation due to its tolerance to acid soils.

Further, there are economic uses for river birch trees as well. Their sap can be fermented to make birch beer or vinegar, and the wood can be used to manufacture inexpensive furniture. The strength of the wood makes it suitable for the manufacture of artificial limbs and children’s toys since it is somewhat lighter than other birches, with a weight of 560 kg/m³.
Lastly, Native Americans used Betula nigra medicinally to treat dysentery, colds, and milky urine by chewing on the birch’s leaves.
The river birch flowers in late spring, with fruits appearing and then being released in early summer. They are monoecious, with pollen forming on the twigs in the fall and being released in late spring, and flowers and seeds being produced with the leaves also in late spring into the summer.

Grelen, H E. “Betula Nigra L.” U.S. Forest Service , U.S. Department of Agriculture, www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/misc/ag_654/volume_2/betula/nigra.htm#:~:text=T…(8). 

“River Birch (Betula Nigra).” Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 31 May 2006, www.illinoiswildflowers.info/trees/plants/river_birch.htm. 

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