Lust List: River Birch

A multi-stemmed river birch (Betula nigra)

You can’t always get what you want. Although you can try sometimes (gardeners call this “zone denial”).

But when what you want is a tree called “river birch,” what you want (this tree with the amazing, exfoliating bark, especially as a youngster) might be ruled out by what this plant needs (rivery – or at least moist soil).

River birch (Betula nigra) is otherwise fairly adaptable. It grows over a wide range of climates, from USDA Zone 3 or 4 to 9. It tolerates heat, and will take sun or part shade. But it doesn’t take kindly to drought, according to tree guru Michael Dirr.

River birch comes in a few compact varieties, making it a nice choice for city lots. This multi-stemmed specimen grows not far from me, and I’ve been watching its progress with horticultural longing curiosity. It has survived at least two winters.

This will likely remain an unrequited love affair, but I hope to admire from not-so-afar for years to come.

Golden fall foliage is a nice side benefit, along with the dark brown twigs and branches and exfoliating bark
A fantastic tree for winter interest. Love the colours and texture of this bark. Did I say love? Love!


    1. Paperbark maple definitely has wonderful red fall foliage, but sometimes the winter skeleton of the tree can be a little awkward — at least the ones I've seen. The river birch looks more graceful without leaves. Still, paperbark maple (Acer griseum) is also on my lust list. You can find my love letter on the blog, too.

  1. Helen .. I too long for this tree .. I would require the compact variety .. I don't know why husband has a negative reaction to them .. but I am working on HIM !!! LOL
    The peeling bark is beautiful and the overall structure is fantastic .. we both have it on our wish list ? : )

  2. I'm wondering how this tree is doing. We live in Toronto and we're considering a River Birch for our front yard.

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