River Birch Tree

A Quick Guide to the River Birch Tree

For an easily obtained and maintained landscape tree, few selections can beat the river birch tree.  This variety is not only attractive in appearance, but also useful in a number of different ways that make the tree a valuable asset.

Birch trees are often associated with delicate white, papery bark that is accented with dots and dashes of brown.  Indeed, many varieties are just that; lovely to look upon but preyed upon by many insects and diseases that can make the tree a threat to all others.  A few varieties, however, dare to be different; displaying a salmon colored bark in its early years, darkening as it ages to a reddish brown bark similar to the color of cinnamon.  These varieties prove to be more resistant to the serious pests such as the bronze birch borer. 

One of these darker skinned varieties is called the river birch tree, a fast growing type of birch that is often used in locations that face erosion damage because of its quick establishment of a shallow root system.  It is considered to be a member of the perennial family; a valuable asset in providing damage control and soil protection while offering little in the way of competition to other plant life such as food crops.  The tree is easily adaptable to a wide variety of soil conditions, even periods of continuously wet soil that is generally not well tolerated by other birch varieties.  River birch grows in USDA zones 4 through 9 with excellent results; remaining unbothered by extreme climate temperatures such as periodic blistering heat waves, icy winter blasts or excessive snowfall.

Besides being an environmental asset, the river birch tree is a wonderful complement as a landscape tree.  The pale orange of the bark belonging to young trees is a lovely contrast to other trees or shrubs; a feature that soon graduates to a deeper hue of reddish brown.  Typical of most birches, this bark eventually peels away to present an overall furled appearance as the tree sheds its outer covering; an eye catching performance that is repeated on an annual basis until the papery bark turns to a rough bark in later years.  Growing to heights of up to 70 feet, it is considered to be in the medium to tall tree category.  A well proportioned spread of approximately 25 feet provides a graceful and stately presence that features a medium green canopy of leaves.  As autumn approaches, the leaves begin their fall transformation by turning bright yellow; standing out magnificently among the numerous reds and bronze normally seen in this season. 

Interesting to note about the river birch tree is the fact that they have also been used in a medicinal manner.  The bark has been thought to have medicinal properties that can be used in treating stomach ailments as well as urinary issues.  In the days when dysentery was an issue, the leaves of the river birch were often chewed or diffused in various treatments for the symptoms of this disorder.  The sap of the tree has been extracted and fermented to create birch beer or birch vinegar concoctions.  Humans are not the only species to recognize the benefits of birch; deer love to munch on the birch leaves and the seeds are a source of food for many bird species. 

There is even yet more to the river birch tree; its wood is used in various applications for furniture and other accessories necessary for daily use.  When not of sufficient quality for dishware, toys or baskets, the wood can be used as a valuable source of fuel.

Because of its many positive attributes, the river birch is a tree that is in large demand.  Used for landscapes and environmental concerns, this tree is an asset in any application.



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