Paper Bark Birch Growing Tips

The Proper Latin Name Is Betula papyrifera

Paper Birch Tree surrounded by fall colors
Paper Birch Tree surrounded by fall colors. Getty Images/Diane Shapiro

Paper bark birch is a lovely medium-sized deciduous tree native to northern North America. The most distinctive characteristic of this tree is the white peeling bark. Like other birch trees, it likes moist areas, so plant this by a riverbank or pond.

Latin Name

The botanical name for this species is Betula papyrifera and it is in the Betulaceae family.

Common Names

Names associated with this tree are paperbark birch, American white birch, paper birch, canoe birch and white birch.

USDA Hardiness Zones

Zones 2-7 are the best zones for this species. It originally comes from northern North America.

Size and Shape

Paper bark birch grows 45-70' tall and 20-35' wide. It forms into a pyramidal or irregular shape.

Exposure

Full sun is best as it can tolerate only some light shade.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit

The leaves are two to four inches long and turn golden yellow in the fall. The flowers are inconspicuous. This tree is monoecious and bears both male and female catkins.

The small dry fruits (nutlets) are formed in clusters on the drooping catkins that turn brown at maturity. Each catkin is 1-1.5" long.

Design Tips

This tree provides great fall and winter interest with the creamy peeling white bark, the golden leaves, and the catkins that can stay on the tree until spring. Many animals feed on the bark in winter.

Plant in small clumps of three or more. This is perfect for use around water features since it can tolerate some moist soil.

Paper bark birch is a fast grower and can be used for places where you need some shade quickly.

Growing Tips

Birches are well known as water-loving trees and are not very drought tolerant at all. It grows best in well-drained sandy or silty loam that is acidic, though it can adapt to a variety of soils.

It does not grow well in compacted soils, and it does not do well in heat, harsh conditions, or around pollution.

Maintenance/Pruning

This tree may form one or many trunks. Once a central leader has been developed if you desire a singular trunk, paper bark birch does not need much pruning. Do not prune in late winter or early spring or it will "bleed sap". Also, keep spring pruning to a minimum to help prevent bronze birch borer.

Pests & Diseases of Paper Bark Birch

As with all birches, bronze birch borer can be a significant problem. However, paper bark birch is one of the more resistant species so you should have less of a possibility of an infestation.

Do not plant where it will grow above cars, as aphids and the honeydew they produce can be a problem. Other insect problems include birch skeletonizer and birch leaf miner, and fungal problems include leaf spots and cankers. Another potential problem is birch dieback ​when the branches die out over time.

Additional Paper Bark Birch Facts

Paper bark birch is a great choice for a landscape tree that is usually planted for its creamy white, peeling bark. However, young trees and new branches have brown bark that turns to the white papery bark as it grows older, so don't be surprised if you find brown bark saplings at the nursery.