The Birch family is one of the largest taxonomic collections on The Morton Arboretum’s West Side. These medium-sized trees are famed for their graceful forms, the delicate appearance of their leaves, vibrant fall color, and, in some varieties, peeling papery bark. Birch trees (Betulaceae) are closely related to beech trees (Fagaceae).
The Birch Family collection was founded in 1924 and expanded greatly starting in 1980. It contains almost 230 plants representing nearly 63 different kinds of trees in the birch family. This collection covers more than five acres on the West Side and within it are alders (Alnus), birch (Betula), hornbeams (Carpinus), hazelnuts (Corylus), hop-hornbeam (Ostrya), and ostryopsis (Ostryopsis).
The collection encompasses a diverse area encountering a flood plain, Bobolink Meadow, and the edge of a pine woodland. Look for a group of large river birches (Betula nigra) in the lower part of the collection. These trees are able to tolerate the flood plain and are a focal point of the collection. Other notable plants include Fox Valley™ river birch (Betula nigra ‘Little King‘) with a perfect round shape and very attractive peeling bark. Farges’ hazelnut (Corylus fargesii) is a recent addition. Its cinnamon, gray, papery peeling bark can mislead one into thinking that it is a river birch. Also keep an eye out for the endangered Virginia round-leaved birch (Betula uber), that is native in only one place in Virginia.