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Gray birch, a native to the Chicago region and typically found in cool climates, is a narrow, pyramidal tree. Bright green leaves turn a yellow fall color. Older trees develop a chalky white bark that does not peel. A good selection for poor soils and other difficult sites, it also demonstrates some resistance to bronze birch borer (BBB). 

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Birch
  • Family (botanic) Betulaceae
  • Planting site Residential and parks, Wide median
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale North America
  • Size range Small tree (15-25 feet), Medium tree (25-40 feet)
  • Mature height 20-40 feet
  • Mature width 10-20 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7
  • Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, clay soil, Dry sites, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, late winter, early fall, mid fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Narrow, Pyramidal
  • Growth rate Moderate
  • Transplants well Moderate
  • Planting considerations May be difficult to find in nurseries
  • Wildlife Game birds, Insect pollinators, Sapsuckers, Small mammals, Songbirds
  • Has cultivars Yes


Gray birch grow between 20 to 40 feet tall and 10 to 20 feet wide.

Native geographic location and habitat:

It is native to the northeastern United States. Commonly found in poor soils.

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife:

This tree attracts songbirds, insect pollinators, sapsuckers, small mammals, and game birds.

Bark color and texture:

Young trees have a reddish-brown color, older trees develop a chalky white bark that does not peel. Black triangular patches form on the bark under the branches.

Leaf description:

It has simple, alternate, triangular leaves that are dark green, shiny, and pendulous that are 2 to 3 inches long. Leaf margins are double-serrated, while the leaf tip is long and pointed. The leaves will turn yellow in the fall.

Flower description:

Flowers are inconspicuous.  Both female and male flowers are in cylindrical catkins, with the female’s structure much smaller.

Fruit, cone, nut and seed descriptions:

Cylindrical clusters of winged nutlets are borne at end of branches and are 2 to 3 inches long.

Tree care:

A medium sized tree tolerant of hot, dry summers and poor soils. It is considered to have a short life span. Cultivar ‘Whitespire’ is more desirable. Avoid pruning birches in spring as they are bleeders and will lose quantities of sap. It is best planted in the spring.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance:

Leaf miners and cankers are possible. Chlorosis may occur in high pH soils. It is resistant to bronze birch borer and air pollution.

This plant is a cultivar of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits.

Whitespire Senior gray birch (Betula populifolia ‘Whitespire’):

This cultivar has a good resistance to bronze birch borer. The name ‘Whitespire’ was incorrectly assigned to Betula platyphylla. It is now assigned to Betula populifolia and the plants are often sold under the name ‘Whitespire Senior’ to avoid confusion.


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