Looking for a fast-growing tree that offers interest all year long? Himalayan Birch has a pyramidal shape, with branches that extend upward and open. In spring, yellowish-brown male flowers appear in drooping three- to five-inch catkins. Greenish female blooms create smaller upright catkins, followed by drooping fruits that contain small winged seeds in early autumn. Leaves resemble slightly rounded ovate wedges, two to three inches wide. Catching the breeze and the sunlight, leaves are dark green above and lighter underneath and showcase glorious golden fall foliage. To brighten the quietude of winter, this deciduous tree reveals its gleaming white bark along the trunk and young branches. Commonly referred to as whitebarked birch, the thin peeling bark was used in ancient times as paper for Sanskrit scripture.
|Botanical Name||Betula utilus var. jacquemontii|
|Common Name||Himalayan Birch, West Himalayan Birch, Whitebarked Himalayan Birch|
|Plant Type||Deciduous tree|
|Mature Size||40 feet tall and 25 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Medium wet, well-drained clay, loam, or sand|
|Soil pH||Acid, alkaline, neutral|
|Flower Color||Yellowish brown (male) and green (female)|
|Hardiness Zones||4, 5, 6, 7|
|Native Area||Western Himalayas (Kashmir to central Nepal)|
How to Grow Himalayan Birch
This deciduous tree is hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 7. To welcome Himalayan Birch into your garden, plant in cool weather. It quickly spreads 25 feet wide and grows 40 feet tall. When cared for properly, it can reach up to 70 feet. Provide plenty of space to let it grow freely and adorn the garden with its constant snowy white framework.
Plant in a sunny location. Himalayan Birch prefers full sun, but it will grow in part shade where it can receive direct sunlight for two to six hours of the day. Afternoon shade can be beneficial in shading the shallow roots especially in the hotter areas of Zone 7. Native to the Western Himalayan Mountains of Kashmir and Nepal, it does best in not-so-hot summers and throughout the cooler winters of zones 4 through 6.
Soil and Water
Give the birch moist soil. It will thrive in just about any soil type, from clay to loam to sand. Like other birches, its roots are shallow. Plant in a low-traffic spot. Himalayan Birch can tolerate very wet soil; wetland restoration sites managers have been known to select this type of birch while planning new sites. Though in well-drained soils, it can grow up to 18 inches per year.
After planting, cover the area near the trunk with mulch. This will keep the roots cool and moist. Consider a companion plant such as an evergreen groundcover, which will protect and shade the roots further. Use a soaker hose to establish strong roots during its first year.
According to the Center for Animal Rehab & Education, birch wood is non-toxic. The University of California reports that birch has minor toxicity and that exposure to the sap may cause skin rash or irritation.
However, WebMD states that birch leaves contain vitamin C and chemicals that "increase water loss through urine." They are used in "spring cures" or for "purifying the blood," contributing to medicine for the kidney, bladder, ureters, and urethra. Birch has also treated arthritis, loss of hair, and achy joints (rheumatism).
Warning: Only consume parts of the plant with the guidance of a medical professional.
An established Himalayan Birch requires little maintenance. If necessary, prune when it is dormant in very late fall or winter. Do not prune in spring when the sap could be running.
Note: Himalayan Birch can be propagated by softwood cuttings or grafting.
Common Pests and Diseases
This deciduous tree thrives in the cool summers of the northern United States. Birches are often weakened by overly hot or humid conditions. A weakened birch is vulnerable to the bronze birch borer - a wood boring beetle that girdles the trunk. Japanese beetles can also damage the foliage.
Aphids, birch leaf miner, and birch skeletonizer pose minor and less frequent problems. (If the ground is sticky beneath the tree, this could be excrement from aphid feeding.) Generally, when a birch tree is stressed by insects, it is more susceptible to cankers.
Overall, the Himalayan Birch is a low-maintenance and high-interest plant. Gift this tree a sunny, cool, moist home and it will provide constant interest for years to come.