Tree Spotlight: Yellow Birch

This month’s tree spotlight is the yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis). The yellow birch is native to northeastern United States and Canada. It grows well in moist, well-drained soils in uplands and mountain ravines, along stream banks, and in swampy woods. It can grow 65-100 feet in height and its crown spread is generally half of the height of the tree. It has a medium tolerance to salt and grows well in more neutral pH soils. Yellow birch provides woody stem browse to moose, white-tail deer, and snowshoe hare; songbirds, ruffed grouse, and red squirrel eat seeds and buds; beaver and porcupine chew on the bark of yellow birch. They can also be tapped for edible syrup. The wood has several uses including furniture, cabinetry, charcoal, pulp, tool handles, boxes, woodenware, and interior doors.

The Big Tree Program is a national initiative that tracks and records the biggest trees of each species across the country. The Vermont big tree program is based on the national program; its scoring system comprises 3 measurements: height, crown width, and circumference at breast height. The current champion yellow birch is in Victory, Vermont. The last time it was measured in 2003, its height was 98 feet, it had an average crown spread of 11 feet, and its circumference at breast height was 14 feet 9 inches, with a diameter of 4.7 feet.

Identification:

Common names: Yellow birch, gray birch, silver birch, swamp birch

Height:  65-100 Feet

Hardiness Zone: 3-7

Leaf: alternately arranged on branches, narrow oval shape, 4-6 inches long, with a double-toothed edge, soft/fuzzy, dark green upper with pale under

Flowers: has male and female flowers; males are catkins (a slim cylindrical flower cluster) that are reddish green, around 1 inch long and occur at the end of twigs, female flowers are upright ½ inch long and reddish green.

Fruit: Cone like fruit, ¾ to 1 ¼ inches long, matures in fall

Twig: Slender green-brown and hairy when young, light -brown and smooth later, buds are sharply oval and sharply pointed.

Bark: Young tree bark is shiny bronze or gray, which peels horizontally in thin papery strips, older trees have red-brown scaly plates

 

Sources

USDAlink 2, link 3

Virginia Tech 

5532808; Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org

5538975, 5538968; David Lee, Bugwood.org

5349050; Keith Kanoti, Maine Forest Service, Bugwood.org

5497617; T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

 

 

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