6 Birch Trees with Gorgeous Fall Foliage

Paper birch tree with white tree trunk and yellow-green leaves on sprawling branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Betula species, such as river birch trees (Betula nigra) and white birches (Betula pendula), are among the best fall foliage specimens. Birches belong to the Betulaceae family (along with alders, hazels, and hornbeams); they are deciduous trees that shed their leaves each fall. About 60 different species of birch grow in temperate climates around the world. Their defining characteristic is their horizontal-lined light-colored white, yellow, or grayish bark that seasonally peels away.

Here are six species you may want to grow if you value beautiful, versatile trees that offer a spectacular seasonal show.


Birch bark is distinctively beautiful and often used for crafting and home decorating. Be careful when harvesting the bark. The outer bark should come off easily and should not be more than 1/4 inch thick. Removing too much of the bark can harm the tree. Collect the bark right after sap season, usually April through June.

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    River Birch Tree (Betula nigra)

    River birch tree with two trunks covered with peeling bark and yellow-green leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    "River" birch is called so because, in its native habitat, it is often found growing near rivers. An alternate common name is "black" birch, which is reflected in the species name, nigra (Latin for "black"). This refers to its bark, which starts salmon-colored but turns darker as it matures. The fall foliage color is yellow. 

    River birch trees can be grown in planting zones 4 to 9. These specimens are full-sun trees, but they will also tolerate partial shade. Native to the eastern U.S., they will reach a height of 40 to 70 feet with a spread of 25 to 35 feet. They can be multi-trunked trees or grown to have just one trunk.

    The trees' peeling bark is as attractive as the fall foliage. They shed their bark like paper birches. River birch trees tolerate the summer heat better than paper birch trees, meaning they are better suited to grow in warmer regions. They are also more borer-resistant than most birches.

    • Native Area: North America
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 40-70 ft.
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
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    Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)

    Paper birch tree with multiple white trunks and yellow-green leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Another birch tree grown as much for its peeling bark as for its fall foliage is the paper birch (Betula papyrifera). Its fall foliage color is yellow. The chalky bark or "paper" is more striking than river birch trees, appearing almost pure white (it is also sometimes erroneously called "white birch"). The bark of this tree is famous for another reason: as the material for birch-bark canoes. Grow this tree if you live in Canada or the northern tier of U.S. states (planting zones 2 to 6). It's native to this region, and it prefers cool temperatures.

    • Native Area: North America
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-7
    • Height: 50-70 ft.
    • Sun Exposure: Partial
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    Gray Birch (Betula populifolia)

    Gray birch tree branch with golden ribbed leaves closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    The fall foliage of gray birch trees (Betula populifolia) is similar to paper birch tree. But gray birch trees grow in clumps, producing multiple trunks, and their bark, which does not peel, is not especially attractive. Despite the unappealing bark, this tree's foliage is quite lovely. Its height and spread are similar to river birch trees. Plant them in full sun to partial shade. These trees are best grown in the northern part of the United States or Canada.

    • Native Area: North America
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-6
    • Height: 20-40 ft.
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
  • 04 of 06

    Young's Weeping Birch (Betula pendula Youngii)

    Silver birch trees with yellow leaves with leaves on ground

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Young's weeping birch (Betula pendula Youngii) is a dwarf white birch variety that reaches a height of 6 to 12 feet at maturity. Its parent species, Betula pendula, is the European white birch. It can be grown in planting zones 3 to 9. In addition to its white bark and yellow fall foliage, this tree's form provides interest in landscaping. As suggested by its name, the branches of this birch tree droop, or "weep" downward. Plant it in full sun to partial shade.

    • Native Area: Europe, Asia
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9
    • Height: 6-12 ft.
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

    Yellow birch tree with bright yellow leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Another attractive non-white birch tree is the yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis). It is a tall tree (60 to 80 feet) with a spread of about 30 feet. This tree sheds its bark like paper and river birch trees. It derives its common name from the color of its peeling bark, which is silvery-bronze with hints of a golden hue. Yellow birches should be grown in full sun to partial shade in planting zones 4 to 7.

    • Native Area: North America
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-7
    • Height: 60-80 ft.
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
  • 06 of 06

    Sweet Birch (Betula lenta)

    Sweet birch tree branch with golden-green ribbed leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Sweet birch (Betula lenta) has dark-colored bark. The foliage and the bark are fragrant. Grow it in zones 4 to 7 in full sun to partial shade. Sweet birch bears a more reliably strong, golden-yellow fall foliage than most other birches with paler yellow foliage. The plant grows 40 to 50 feet tall, with a spread of 35 to 45 feet.

    • Native Area: North America
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-7
    • Height: 40-50 ft.
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial

Warm sunny days that lead into cool, crisp nights are the formula for a beautiful leaf-peeping season in the fall. Birch trees guarantee some flashy, colorful displays from their leaves and distinctive bark. These trees offer incredible landscaping potential as specimens that provide visual interest in the fall along with oaks, maples, and aspens.