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This native tree has lovely white bark and yellow fall color, but is not a good tree for tough sites. It 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
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 50-70 feet
  • Mature width 19-45 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 2, Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, clay soil, Occasional flooding, Road salt
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, late winter, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Round
  • Growth rate Fast
  • Transplants well Yes
  • Planting considerations Intolerant of pollution
  • Wildlife Game birds, Insect pollinators, Sapsuckers, Small mammals, Songbirds
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 10. Native to the more northern areas of the United States and Canada.

Bark color and texture:

The bark is very white and peels readily. Long, black lenticels and V-shaped black marks at branch connections are prominent on this species as it ages.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

Leaves are simple, alternate, and 2 to 4 inches long. Dark green, oval-shaped, leaves have double serrated margins. Leaves are dark green in the summer, changing to yellow in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Flowers are Inconspicuous. Male flowers are contained in cylindrical catkins. Female flowers are  also in a cylindrical structure, but much smaller in size

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Cylindrical clusters of winged nutlets.

Plant care:

This tree performs better in more northern climates. Trees may be stressed by the hot summers of northern Illinois. Avoid pruning birches in spring as they are bleeders and will lose large quantities of sap.

List of pests, diseases, tolerances and resistance:

Leaf miners and cankers are possible. Chlorosis (yellowing) may occur in high pH soils. Shows some resistance to the bronze birch borer.

Renaissance Reflection® paper birch (Betula papyrifera ‘Renci’): 

A fast-growing cultivar with striking white bark. The dark green foliage transitions to a golden color in the fall. This tree is resistant to bronze birch borer (BBB), but does not do well when exposed to drought or polluted conditions.


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