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European White Birch

January 10, 2020

Tree of the Month

Betula pendula

A beautiful and graceful specimen mainly prized for its white bark.  The tree starts with a pyramidal habit and becomes more rounded with age attaining heights of 80-100 feet in its native Europe, but rarely exceeds 50-60 feet in the U. S.  They will typically spread 20-35 feet if given enough light and space.

Bark on young trees starts brown and becomes bright white in smooth plates with very little peeling, unlike several of our native species.  Older trees develop a black diamond checked pattern on the lower trunk area and eventually on very old trees, become an unrecognizable deeply ridged black in color.

The leaves are 1-3” long and 1-1 ½” wide with a slender tail.  They are glossy green in the summer with a fair yellow fall color most years, but not as pronounced as our native species.  The almost weeping habit of the branches, look a lot like a weeping willow when the trees mature.

It is best transplanted in the spring and does prefer a moist but well-drained soil.  Hardy from about Maryland to Maine, they have fallen out of favor with many homeowners and horticultural professionals due to their susceptibility to leaf miner and the bronze birch borer.  While treatable with a plant health care program, most people don’t recognize the early signs of damage and wait until it is too late to save the tree.

The showy white bark, pendulous branches, shiny leaves, and even the seeds in their catkin form, prized by many song birds, provide for four seasons of interest.  While not as long lived as some of our natives, the European White Birch is still a handsome specimen deserving some consideration in the landscape.

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