Plants of New Jersey # 13 Black Birch


Black Birch (Betula lenta)

Welcome! Today we are going to discuss the Black Birch (Betula lenta).  Black Birch belongs to the Betulaceae family of plants. The wetland indicator status is FACU.  This means that while the tree is usually found in uplands it may be found in freshwater wetlands on occasion. Black Birch can grow from 50-80 feet and sometimes even larger.

Black Birch

The tree is also known as Sweet Birch for two reasons. Reason One: If you scrape a branch you will get a strong whiff of wintergreen. Before wintergreen was produced synthetically it was derived from the Black Birch. Reason Two: Black Birch also produces sugary sap when tapped (take that Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)! Ha!). Birch Beer was even made from its fermented sap! Is there anything this tree can’t do?


Young Black Birch

Black Birch under 40 years old can look similar to a young Black Cherry Tree (Prunus serotina) which leads to another name for this Birch tree – Cherry Birch. One way to tell the difference between the trees is the smell. While Black Birch will smell like wintergreen, Black Cherry will smell like burnt almonds if you break a branch.

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Mature Black Birch

Mature Black Birch is a bit easier to identify than its younger variation. As the tree ages (generally between 40-50 years) the bark breaks by forming furrows as evident in the picture above.

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Many Black Birch roots can be found in strange formations. The roots of the Black Birch in the picture above likely formed over a dead tree that has long ago returned to the earth.


Black Birch Catkins

In the spring, Black Birch has a merry way of coming back to life in the form of yellow catkins waving in the wind. The tree is host to the Mourning Cloak Butterfly, an early sign of spring.

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1 thought on “Plants of New Jersey # 13 Black Birch

  1. Pingback: Plants of New Jersey # 15 Black Cherry Tree |

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