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River Birch - 2002 Urban Tree of the Year
Society of Municipal Arborists Picks the Most Popular City Tree to Plant

Betula nigra Heritage™ was selected Urban Tree of the Year for 2002 as determined by responses to an annual survey in arborist magazine City Trees. This magazine serves as Journal to The Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA) and readers select a new tree each year.

According to SMA, "the Heritage River Birch was selected as this year's Urban Tree of the Year. Although it was not a majority vote, the popularity of the Heritage River Birch comes from its tolerance to the urban environment; its beautiful bark in summer and winter, and its specimen-like qualities."

River Birch - 2002 Tree of the Year

The three most common birch species grown in urban environments in America are paper birch, European white birch and the heat-tolerant river birch. River Birch, or Betula nigra, seems to be the only birch truly adapted to the hardships of urban conditions. Especially the Heritage™ or "Cully" cultivar. This tree stands up to heat and a deadly birch borer which can become a real problem with other birch species planted under city conditions and subject to pruning and other intrusive forms of landscape management.

According to City Trees Editor, Leonard Phillips, the tree was chosen "to illustrate the importance of selecting the right tree for the right spot...The Urban Tree of the Year also provides extra publicity to excellent trees that need planting more often. Our cities often contain too many of the common maples and ash that are cheap, easy to grow, and are short-lived. A quality urban tree is a better investment for the future of the city. Cities last forever, why plant a tree that will live only seven years on average."

A lot of arborists and urban foresters have used the tree and are recommending it highly in and around towns and cities.

Arthur Plotnik, in his Urban Tree Book describes the tree this way - "River birch bark is naturally platy or flaky; in cultivated varieties, it peels in colorful flakes of brown, salmon, peach, orange, and lavender - as if some child had gone wild with crepe paper. The superb 'Heritage' variety provides a pinkish-white bark, a bonus for regions deprived of paper and European white birches."

The Reader's Survey indicates that this year's runner-ups were Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry, Golden Rain Tree, Shawnee Brave Bald Cypress, and Allee Lacebark Elm. You can find many of these online at About Tree Catalogs.

Here is a river birch descriptive summary:

Description (provided by City Trees)
Common Names: river birch, black birch, water birch, red birch
Botanical Name: Betula nigra 'Cully'
Pronunciation: BET-You-la nigh-gra
Habitat Eastern United States, from southern New England to Florida and west to Minnesota and Kansas, in the wild, limited to moist areas and is most commonly found along stream banks and areas that flood.
Hardiness Zone: 3 - 9
Mature Size: Height 45' - 50'; Spread 30'- 40'
Flower: Male catkins are 2" to 3" long, female flowers are 1" to 1_" long, male catkins are usually grouped in threes.
Fruit: Ornamentally insignificant, resembling immature catkins, opening and shedding small nutlet seeds in spring.
Foliage: Summer: Leathery texture, glossy dark green upper side, light green on underside, somewhat diamond-shaped with a wedge-shaped leaf base, doubly serrate margin and slightly incised, alternate, ovate. Autumn: Golden-yellow to yellow-brown in good years, leaves drop quickly.
Twigs/Bark: Red-brown ultra-thin twigs transition into cinnamon-colored, heavily-lenticeled young branches, exfoliating to a cream-light orange-lavender color to reveal salmon-brown and white patches on the trunk and large branches.
Pruning: Pruning in late winter and throughout spring, will cause sap to bleed from the wounds, pruning is best accomplished in late summer through autumn.
Growth Rate: Vigorous and robust, full size in 30 years
Planting: Transplants best in spring by B & B or container, somewhat sensitive to being transplanted in autumn, and care should be taken to amend the soil, fertilize, water thoroughly, mulch adequately.
Site Requirements: Makes best growth on moist river bottom soil, but has proven to be adaptable to dried sites, performs well in soils that are acidic to neutral, pH 6.5 or lower.
Pest Resistance: Resistant to Bronze Birch Borer; most trouble free birch
Storm Resistance: Resistant to wind and ice damage due to stout branching habit, does not weep like River Birch.
Salt Resistance: Fair; avoid winter salt spray to enhance survival during winter.
Landscape Uses: Useful in parks, residential areas, plaza plantings, larger residences, public grounds, parks, golf courses and city streets, good for clumps or single specimen, lawn tree; shade is light and allows turf to grow, texture is medium, useful along streams and in naturalistic areas.
Other Comments: Full sun to partial shade, very symmetrical branching.
Available from: Most nurseries.
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