11 Common Types of Birch Trees

Identified by their unique bark, birch trees look lovely in the landscape.

frontal shot of a birch tree

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Birch trees belong to the genus Betula and are classified as part of the Betulaceae family of plants. They are typically small to medium-sized trees and shrubs found in temperate zones across the Northern Hemisphere. Some varieties of the birch tree grow in shrubby clusters. Others are trees that clump with multiple trunks, and still more grow as classic single-trunk trees. Ask anyone what's special about a birch tree and its beautiful bark immediately comes to mind. Birches are a common choice in landscaping, but they are relatively short-lived trees when compared to other hardwoods, and many become damaged by insects and diseases.

Most birches are characterized by varicolored or white bark with papery plates, distinctive horizontal markings, and peeling layers; the appearance of the bark often is the feature that gives the species its common name, paper birch.


Click Play to Learn About Common Species of Birch Trees

Most birch trees grow best in moist soil and they love full sun. 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 that are not hard to grow and should be a choice for your landscape. Birches are fast-growing trees that can quickly provide benefits to your yard.

Insect pests are most likely to strike a birch tree in areas where it is wounded or diseased. By keeping your trees pruned and free of damaged branches, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of infestation by bronze birch borer or other insects.

Here are 11 common types of birch trees to consider for your landscape and areas where they are typically grown in the United States and around the world.


Birch trees are often mistaken for quaking aspen trees (a poplar tree). That's probably because sometimes the bark looks similar. Birch leaves are longer and more oval-shaped vs. quaking aspen's round, somewhat heart-shaped leaves.

  • 01 of 11

    Bog Birch (Betula pumila)

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

    Bog birch is a medium-sized, short-lived, clump-forming shrub that thrives in wet sites and is native to North America. The plant tolerates occasional flooding, alkaline soil, clay soil, and road salt. When planted in residential landscapes, it grows well around bodies of water or in boggy areas. Bog birch is a good choice for rain gardens.

    Other common names include swamp birch, glandular birch, dwarf birch, and resin birch.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 9
    • Mature Size: 5 to 10 feet
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moist, tolerates alkaline or clay
  • 02 of 11

    River Birch (Betula nigra)

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

    River birch is an increasingly popular, fast-growing tree for the home landscape and is native to the eastern United States. It may grow either as a single-trunk tree or a multi-trunk clumping tree. It has distinctive salmon-pink to reddish-brown bark that exfoliates to reveal lighter inner bark providing year-round interest in the landscape. Dark green foliage turns a beautiful buttery yellow in the fall. River birch has good resistance to the bronze birch borer. It is one of the only truly heat-tolerant birches.

    River birch may also be known as red birch, black birch, or water birch.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9
    • Mature Size: 40 to 70 feet
    • Light: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, does not tolerate alkaline soil
  • 03 of 11

    Cherry Birch (Betula lenta)

    Sweet birch tree

    Stephen Robson / Getty Images

    Cherry birch is a large tree that grows from a single main trunk. Shiny, red-brown bark and yellow foliage make this an attractive tree for lawns and naturalized areas. The bark on mature trees develops vertical cracks that form irregular scaly plates, closely resembling the bark of cherry trees. Flowering in April and May, the tree produces fruiting catkins from August through October and serves as a food source for deer, moose, rabbits, and various birds. This tree also attracts beautiful butterflies to the landscape and is resistant to the bronze birch borer which can devastate other species of birch. Its broken twigs emit a spicy wintergreen fragrance and fermented sap is an ingredient used in birch beer.

    The tree is native to the eastern U.S., from Maine to northern Georgia. Regionally, the cherry birch may be called by other common names, including black birch, sweet birch, mahogany birch, Virginia roundleaf birch, or spice birch.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8 
    • Mature Size: 40 to 70 feet
    • Light: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained loams, acidic, sandy, rocky
  • 04 of 11

    Dwarf Birch (Betula nana)

    Dwarf Birch
    MAKY_OREL / Pixabay / CC By 0

    Betula nana is a small dwarf shrub, native to arctic and cool temperate regions, especially tundra landscapes. It will grow in a variety of conditions, though it favors a wet but well-drained site. It does not tolerate shade well. The dwarf birch is rarely planted in landscapes, but it is important to cover vegetation in cold northern territories.

    The tree is native to Greenland, Iceland, northern Europe, northern Asia, and northern North America. Other names for this tree include bog birch and arctic birch.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 1 to 8
    • Mature Size: 6 inches to 3 feet tall 
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, rocky, nutrient-poor, acidic
    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    Silver Birch (Betula pendula or B. verrucosa)

    Silver birch


    Eerik / Getty Images

    The silver birch, native to Europe and Asia, has an attractive pendulous habit and distinctive white bark that peels away in papery strips. It grows as a single-trunk tree that gradually transforms from pyramidal in shape to a more rounded, oval crown. Also known as weeping birch or European white birch, the silver birch was once used extensively in landscapes, but its high susceptibility to the bronze birch borer has limited its use in more recent years.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 7; can be grown in 8 and 9 but will have a shorter life
    • Mature Size: 40 to 80 feet, depending on cultivar
    • Light: Full sun 
    • Soil Needs: Medium to wet, well-drained, sandy
  • 06 of 11

    Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii)

    Himalayan Birch
    John Lord / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    The ornamental interest of Himalayan birch includes pretty spring flowers, rich yellow fall color, and bright white papery bark. It is a medium-sized tree with a single trunk that quickly branches out into a pyramid shape. This birch species is very vulnerable to damage by the bronze birch borer and usually requires removal and/or replacement, especially in warmer zones. It is a heartier and longer-lived tree in cooler climates.

    This tree is native to West Himalayas and Nepal. It has other common names, including white-barked Himalayan birch and jacquemonti birch.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 7 
    • Mature Size: 30 to 50 feet
    • Light: Full sun; can take some light shade 
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, loamy, sandy, clay
  • 07 of 11

    Japanese White Birch (Betula platyphylla 'Japonica')

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

    This species, also known as Asian white birch, is a medium to large tree with white bark and thin spreading branches that terminate in drooping branchlets. Although it prefers full sun, the Japanese white birch thrives in northern and eastern exposures that receive some afternoon shade. The main requirement is consistently moist soil. Like several other members of the birch family, this birch performs best in cooler climates; with warmer zones causing increased susceptibility to birch borer insects. It's native to Manchuria, Korea, and Japan.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8 
    • Mature Size: 40 to 50 feet
    • Light: Full sun to part shade 
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, sandy, or rocky loam
  • 08 of 11

    Paper Bark Birch (Betula papyrifera)

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

    Primarily native to Alaska, Canada, and northern U.S. states, this tree has lovely white bark and yellow fall color. It can grow either as a single-trunk tree or in small clumps with multiple trunks. Paper bark birch is so-named due to the thin white bark which often peels in paper-like layers from the trunk. It also is known as the canoe birch or white birch. This is the classic birch tree historically used to make many useful products from footwear to birch-bark canoes. Buds, catkins, and leaves along with twigs and bark are a source of food for birds and other wildlife. The paper bark birch demonstrates some resistance to the bronze birch borer. 

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 7
    • Mature Size: 45 to 100 feet
    • Light: Full sun to light shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, sandy, loamy
    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    Weeping Birches (Betula pendula var.)

    Young's weeping birch

    Ron Evans / Getty Images

    Trees known as weeping birches generally are different naturally occurring or cultivated varieties of silver birch (Betula pendula), described above. Exact details such as growing zones, height, soil, and light needs will depend on the particular variety.

     Common varieties include:

    • Curly birch (B. pendula 'Carelica')
    • Cutleaf weeping European birch (B. pendula 'Gracilis')
    • Golden cloud weeping birch (B. pendula 'Golden Cloud')
    • Purple weeping birch (B. pendula 'Purpurea')
    • Swedish birch (B. pendula 'Dalecarlica' or 'Laciniata')
    • Tristis weeping birch (B. pendula 'Tristis')
    • Young's weeping birch (B. pendula 'Youngii') (pictured)
  • 10 of 11

    Water Birch (Betula occidentalis or Betula fontinalis)

    Betula occidentalis- water birch

    Thayne Tuason / Wikimedia Commons / CC By 4.0

    Water birch typically occurs along streams in mountainous regions in western North America, where it grows in dense thickets. The bark is dark red-brown to blackish, and smooth. Unlike other birch trees, its bark does not peel. This tree is a source of food and lodge material for the common North American beaver.

    The tree has other common names, including western birch, red birch, river birch, black birch, and western red birch.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 7 
    • Mature Size: Shrubby form can grow 25 feet tall; as a tree, to 40 feet 
    • Light: Full sun to part shade 
    • Soil Needs: Naturally soggy soil
  • 11 of 11

    Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

    Yellow birch
    Cora Niele / Getty Images

    Yellow birch, named for the color of its bark, is a relatively long-lived birch that typically grows for 150 years and may even age to 300 years in old-growth forests. It is a single-stemmed tree with yellow-bronze bark that peels in narrow horizontal strips. This is an important species to the North American lumber industry and a major woodland food source for birds and wildlife.

    Yellow birch, native to northeastern North America, may be known regionally as swamp birch, curly birch, gold birch, or hard birch.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 7
    • Mature Size: 50 to 80 feet
    • Light: Full sun to part shade  
    • Soil Needs: Fertile sandy loam, well-drained

The various species of birch trees in the Betula genus include at least these 11 that are important landscape trees. Birch trees offer interesting bark color and texture and attractive foliage, but they are relatively short-lived and they are prone to suffer from diseases and insects, especially the bronze birch borer. But birches still make excellent, fast-growing landscape specimens, provided you have realistic expectations.

If you're interested in more yard trees that have dazzling fall colors, check out the beauty of oak and maple trees in autumn.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bog Birch. The Morton Arboretum.

  2. The Bronze Birch Borer and Its Management. University of Minnesota Extension Service.