Content Detail

Sweet birch is an attractive tree for lawns and naturalized areas, with shiny, red-brown bark and yellow foliage. Native to the eastern United States, the tree also attracts butterflies and serves as a caterpillar/larval host. This species shows some resistance to bronze birch borer (BBB).

  • Family (English) Birch
  • Family (botanic) Betulaceae
  • Planting site Residential and parks
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale North America
  • Size range Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 40-50 feet
  • Mature width 35-45 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, Road salt, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early fall, mid fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Oval, Pyramidal
  • Growth rate Moderate
  • Transplants well No
  • Planting considerations May be difficult to find in nurseries
  • Wildlife Butterflies, Game birds, Insect pollinators, Small mammals, Songbirds
  • Has cultivars No

Size and form:

The pyramidal sweet birch matures to 40 to 50 feet tall and 35 to 45 feet wide.

Native geographic location and habitat:

It is native to the eastern United States and often found in rocky sites.

Bark color and texture:

Young trees have a smooth, shiny, red-brown with rows of white lenticels, while mature bark is brown-black and scaly. Crushed stems smell like wintergreen.

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

The simple, alternate leaves are 2 to 6 inches long and broadly ovate with doubly toothed margins. They are medium green in summer turning golden yellow in fall.

Flower description:

Male catkins are 2 to 3 inches long and carried at the tips of branches. They hang down when opening. Female flowers are smaller and upright along the same stem. They are not ornamentally important.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Fruit is an erect catkin with many tiny winged seeds which ripen in fall. 

Plant care:

Sweet birch is best grown in full sun. It grows along moist, well-drained woodland slopes. It doesn’t like compacted soil. This tree should only be transplanted in spring. Avoid pruning in spring as birches tend to ‘bleed’ (lose large quantities of sap).

List of pests, diseases and tolerances:

This tree is moderately susceptible to bronze birch borer. It is also susceptible to canker diseases, aphids, and leaf miners. This species is sensitive to soil compaction and air pollution. It is tolerant of black walnut toxicity.


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