12 Species and Cultivars of Birch Trees

illustration of varieties of birch trees

Illustration: Hugo Lin. © The Spruce, 2019 

Birch trees belong to the genus Betula and are classified as part of the Betulaceae family. Their beautiful bark and leaves make them a common choice in landscaping. They are water lovers, which can be great if you have soil that tends to be moist. However, the roots might head for your plumbing pipes if a large tree is planted too close to your house. Do not let this deter you, though; these are magnificent trees and should definitely be considered for inclusion in your landscape.

  • 01 of 12

    Bog Birch

    Bog Birch in Autumn
    Western Arctic National Parklands/Flickr/CC 2.0

    Bog birch is a medium-sized, short-lived, clump-forming shrub for wet habitats. It thrives in wet sites. It can tolerate occasional flooding, alkaline soil, clay soil, and road salt. It does not tolerate pollution well.

    • Botanical Name: Betula pumila
    • Other Common Names: Swamp birch, glandular birch, dwarf birch, resin birch
    • Native Area: North America
    • USDA Zones: 2 to 9 
    • Size: 5 to 10 feet tall and wide
    • Exposure: Full sun
  • 02 of 12

    Cherry Birch

    Sweet birch tree
    Stephen Robson / Getty Images

    Sweet birch is an attractive tree for lawns and naturalized areas with shiny, red-brown bark and yellow foliage. This tree also attracts beautiful butterflies to the landscape. This tree is resistant to bronze birch borer.

    • Botanical Name: Betula lenta 
    • Other Name(s): Black birch, sweet birch, mahogany birch, Virginia roundleaf birch, or spice birch 
    • Native Area: Eastern U.S.
    • Preferred Hardiness Zones: Zones 3 to 8 
    • Size: 40 to 70 feet tall and 35 feet wide 
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 03 of 12

    Downy Birch

    Downy birch
    Katsuhiro Yamanashi / Getty Images

    Due to susceptibility to bronze birch borer, this tree is not recommended for planting and usually requires removal and/or replacement. Downy birch has a narrow habit and gray-white bark.

    • Botanical Name: Betula pubescens 
    • Other Name(s): Hairy birch, moor birch, white birch, American white birch 
    • Preferred Hardiness Zones: Zones 2 to 9. May grow in zone 1 
    • Size: About 40 feet tall and 35 feet wide 
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade 
  • 04 of 12

    Dwarf Birch

    Dwarf Birch
    MAKY_OREL / Pixabay / CC By 0

    Betula nana is native to arctic and cool temperate regions. It will grow in a variety of conditions. In general, it favors wet but well-drained sites with a nutrient-poor, acidic soil which can be rocky. It does not tolerate shade well.

    • Botanical Name: Betula nana 
    • Other Name(s): Bog birch, Arctic birch 
    • Native Areas: Greenland, Iceland, northern Europe, northern Asia, and northern North America
    • Preferred Hardiness Zones: Zones 1 to 8 
    • Size: 6 inches to 3 feet tall 
    • Exposure: Full sun
    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Himalayan Birch

    Himalayan Birch
    John Lord / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    Its ornamental interest includes pretty spring flowers, rich yellow fall color, and its papery bark. However, it is susceptible to the bronze birch borer and usually requires removal and/or replacement.

    • Botanical Name: Betula jacquemontii or Betula utilis var "Jacquemontii" 
    • Other Name(s): White-barked Himalayan birch, Jacquemonti birch 
    • Preferred Hardiness Zones: Zones 4 to 7 
    • Size: 30 to 50 feet tall and about 20 feet wide 
    • Exposure: Full sun, can take some light shade 
  • 06 of 12

    Japanese White Birch

    Japanese White Birch
    View Photos/a.collectionRF / Getty Images

    This species is best grown in medium to wet, well-drained, sandy or rocky loams. Although it prefers full sun, it is best sited in a northern or eastern exposure that receives some afternoon shade. It needs consistently moist soils. 

    • Botanical Name: Betula platyphylla Japonica
    • Other Name: Asian White Birch 
    • Native Area: Manchuria, Korea, Japan
    • Preferred Hardiness Zones: Zones 3 to 8 
    • Size: 40 to 50 feet tall and 15 to 30 feet wide 
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade 
  • 07 of 12

    Paper Bark Birch

    Paper Bark Birch
    Plant Image Library / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    This tree has lovely white bark and yellow fall color. Paper birch is named due to the thin white bark which often peels in paper like layers from the trunk. It demonstrates some resistance to the bronze birch borer. 

    • Botanical Name: Betula papyrifera 
    • Other Name(s): Canoe birch, white birch 
    • Native Area: Northern North America
    • Preferred Hardiness Zones: 2 to 7 
    • Size: 45 to 70 feet tall and 20 to 35 feet wide 
    • Exposure: Full sun, some light shade
  • 08 of 12

    River Birch

    River birch
    F. D. Richards / Flickr/ CC By 2.0

    River birch is a popular, fast-growing tree for the home landscape. Attractive salmon-pink to reddish-brown bark exfoliates to reveal lighter inner bark. Dark green foliage turns a beautiful buttery yellow in the fall. It is resistant to the bronze birch borer. It is one of the only heat-tolerant birches.

    • Botanical Name: Betula nigra
    • Other Name(s): Red Birch, black birch, water birch 
    • Preferred Hardiness Zones: Zones 4 to 9 
    • Size: 40 to 70 feet tall and 40 to 60 feet wide 
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    Silver Birch

    Silver Birch
    Peter O'Connor aka anemoneprojectors/ Flickr/ CC By 2.0

    This tree has an attractive pendulous habit. This tree was once used extensively in landscapes, but its high susceptibility to the bronze birch borer has limited its use in more recent years.

    • Botanical Name: Betula pendula or Betula verrucosa 
    • Other Name(s): European birch, European white birch 
    • Preferred Hardiness Zones: 2 to 7; it can be grown in 8 and 9, but will have a shorter life. 
    • Size: 40 to 80 feet tall and 10 to 25 feet wide; varies depending on the cultivar
    • Exposure: Full sun  
  • 10 of 12

    Water Birch

    Water birch
    Andrey Zharkikh/ Flickr/ CC By 2.0

    This tree typically occurs along streams in mountainous regions. The bark is dark red-brown to blackish, and smooth. Unlike other birch trees, its bark does not peel.

    • Botanical Name: Betula occidentalis or Betula fontinalis 
    • Other Names: Western birch, red birch, river birch, black birch, western red birch 
    • Native Area: North America
    • Preferred Hardiness Zones: Zones 3 to 7 
    • Size: Shrubby form. Usually up to 25 feet tall, sometimes to 40 feet. 
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade  
  • 11 of 12

    Weeping Birches

    Young's Weeping Birch is one variety of weeping trees (Betula pendula 'Youngii')
    This is 'Youngii'. Wlcutler/Flickr/CC 2.0

    Weeping birches are different varieties of silver birch or Betula pendula. Exact details such as zones will depend on the particular variety.

     Common varieties include:

    • Curly birch ("Carelica")
    • Cutleaf weeping European birch ("Gracilis")
    • Golden cloud weeping birch ("Golden Cloud")
    • Purple weeping birch ("Purpurea")
    • Swedish birch ("Dalecarlica" or "Laciniata")
    • Tristis weeping birch ("Tristis")
    • Young's weeping birch ("Youngii") (pictured)
  • 12 of 12

    Yellow Birch

    Yellow birch
    Cora Niele / Getty Images

    Yellow birch, named for the color of its bark, is a relatively long-lived birch which typically grows 150 years and may even grow up to 300 in old growth forests. It is a tree commonly used for lumber.

    • Botanical Name: Betula alleghaniensis 
    • Other Name(s): Swamp birch, curly birch, gold birch, hard birch 
    • Preferred Hardiness Zones: Zones 3 to 7 
    • Size: 50 to 80 feet tall and 30 to 50 feet wide 
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade