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Identify the Birch

Trees in the Birch Family - Betulaceae


River Birch

River Birch

Photo by Steve Nix
Birch is the name of any tree of the genus Betula, in the family Betulaceae, closely related to the beech/oak family, Fagaceae. Birch species are generally small to medium-size trees or shrubs, mostly of northern temperate climates. The simple leaves may be toothed or pointed and the fruit is a small samara. The bark of all birches is characteristically marked with long horizontal lenticels, and often separates into thin papery plates, especially the Paper Birch.

The Common North American Birch Species

Dormant Identification:
Often confused with beech, hophornbeam and ironwood; has short scaled buds (vs. long scaled buds on beech); has mostly smooth bark but outer bark peeling in papery layers; has male and female parts on same tree (male long catkins, female short cones); Yellow birch has wintergreen tasting twig; River birch has salmon colored exfoliating bark; paper (canoe) birch has creamy white thin bark separating into papery strips.

Leaves: alternate, simple, doubly saw-toothed.
Bark: peeling papery layers.
Fruit: nuts or nutlets in cones.

ash | beech | basswood | birch | black cherry | black walnut/butternut | cottonwood | elm | hackberry | hickory | holly | locust | magnolia | maple | oak | poplar | red alder | royal paulownia | sassafras | sweetgum | sycamore | tupelo | willow | yellow-poplar

ID Glossary

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