The Paper or White Birch tree is considered to be one of the most attractive tree species in North America. Its’ handsome summer and fall foliage, graceful form and showy white bark keep this Birch species in demand for landscaping applications. Paper Birch was once used by northern Native Americans to build canoes and is also known as ‘Canoe Birch’.
The Paper Birch is a good selection for northern climates if sited and cared for properly. The native Paper (White) Birch is generally a more reliable performer with more inherent boring insect resistance than many of the exotic white bark Birches from Europe and Asia. In addition, there are Paper Birch “eco-types” available that have been selected from some of the most stressful native sites in the species vast transcontinental growing range. Cultivar selections like ‘Prairie Dream’ from the Kildeer Mountains of North Dakota and ‘Renaissance Oasis’ from southwestern Ohio are two examples of Paper Birch cultivars with very good resistance to borers and environmental extremes.
The Paper or White Birch is a tree that performs best in cool, moist soil and needs a full or partial sun exposure. Providing these conditions help insure the tree performs at its’ best. Apply mulch over the tree’s root system to create and preserve optimal growing conditions. Paper Birch tolerates typical alkaline Midwestern soils. Surprisingly, it excels in these soil conditions, compared to the more popular River Birch. The Paper Birch should not be pruned during late winter through spring due to the copious bleeding that occurs from sap rising during that time of the year. It is in a class of trees called “bleeders” along with Maples, Walnuts and other tree species with a similar physiology. Violating this rule can weaken the tree and increase vulnerability to attack by the Bronze Birch Borer. Japanese Beetle and Leaf Miner insects are problems in some years, although generally not a serious one. Again, stressed trees are more vulnerable to disease and insect attacks.
The Paper Birch is hardy in USDA Zones 2b through 6. It will survive in warmer zones if it’s planted in a north-facing sheltered location and receives sufficient moisture. Choosing one of the cultivars with enhanced stress and pest resistance for use in these areas can substantially reduce any potential problems. Every year, the Paper Birch bears tiny seeds produced in small “catkins” that are dispersed by the wind. This typically starts in September and lasting through November. A small quantity are retained through the winter and released during snow cover. The wind may scatter seeds for miles over the snow in exposed windswept locations, but litter is not typically a serious problem.
In summary, the Paper or White Birch is a very attractive “site specific” species for use in appropriate landscape situations. Adhering to its’ particular requirements will reward us with a beautiful landscape addition, whether planted in the popular “clump form” or as a “single stem”. It can be found in many local nurseries. However, many of the “patented” cultivars need to be requested by the specific ‘cultivar name’. It is a valuable addition, worthy of inclusion in our “diversified urban tree species planting list”.
Harold Hoover Kramer Tree Specialists Board Certified Master Arborist IL-1478B
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