Birch trees, and particularly the river birch trees, are often planted in the home landscape for their unusual silvery-white or reddish-brown peeling bark.
The trunk of the river birch often divides near the ground and, as a result, gives the tree an appearance of two or more trees growing together. This trunk-branching habit, the colorful peeling bark, and the delicate foliage make the river birch a stunning specimen tree to plant near the front of your home, thus creating a centerpiece or focal point around which to build a striking garden that enhances your front grounds.
Also, since the natural growth site of the birches is near riverbanks, the trees add grace and focus to any backyard water-garden areas that you might build.
The river birches are often used in commercial landscaping as well, their characteristic peeling bark and branched trunks making a dramatic show reflected in the glass of office buildings or mirrored in sparkling ponds and lakes in industrial or office park settings.
The river birches thrive in moist sandy soil, and generally prefer full sun, although they will do well in partial shade and are, indeed, a good source of filtered sun for the plants below them which require just such conditions in your garden. The tree occurs naturally over the entire eastern United States from the New England area to Florida and westward to areas beyond the Mississippi River. River birch is an easy species to locate at your local garden center, and an easy and eye-pleasing tree to grow in your home landscape.
In addition to the year-round show you get from the peeling bark and branched trunks of the river birch, the medium-sized green leaves turn to a brilliant yellow in the fall, adding another desirable feature into your landscape.
The birch family (Betulaceae) also contains the alders (Alnus) and filberts (Corylus), as well as all of the birch trees (Betula). In addition to the ever-popular river birch, several other birch trees are worthy of mention.
The paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is a well-known tree of the northern North American continent, particularly Canada. The bark of this species is legendary in the making of canoes by the early Native Americans, and paper birch is, in fact, sometimes called “canoe birch.” While most of the birch trees are rather slender and not very tall (about 50-60 feet in height), the paper birch has been known to attain heights in excess of 90 feet and diameters of 2 to 3 feet.
The sweet birch (Betula lenta) is a medium sized tree (45 to 65 feet high) of the eastern and northeastern United States. Its bark differs from that of most of the other birches in that it is almost black in color and not papery but rather scaly in its appearance. The twigs of the sweet birch have a strong wintergreen taste and are distilled in order to produce the aromatic flavoring we call oil of wintergreen.
Weeping birch (Betula pendula) is a shorter variety (to 40 feet), characterized by delicate foliage and paper white bark. It is often planted in the landscape in clumps to create a dramatic effect.
Think of the birches, especially river birch, when considering an unusual and attractive tree species to add to your landscape.