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Yellow Birch, A Common Tree in North America

Betula alleghaniensis, A Top 100 Common Tree in North America


Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) is the most valuable of the native birches. It is easily recognized by the yellowish-bronze exfoliating bark for which it is named. The inner bark is aromatic and has a flavor of wintergreen. Other names are gray birch, silver birch, and swamp birch. This slow-growing long-lived tree is found with other hardwoods and conifers on moist well-drained soils of the uplands and mountain ravines. It is an important source of hardwood lumber and a good browse plant for deer and moose. Other wildlife feed on the buds and seeds.

1. The Silviculture of Yellow Birch

Steve Nix
Yellow birch lumber and veneer are used in making furniture, paneling, plywood, cabinets, boxes, woodenware, handles, and interior doors. It is one of the principal hardwoods used in the distillation of wood alcohol, acetate of lime, charcoal, tar, and oils.

2. The Images of Yellow Birch

Steve Nix
Forestryimages.org provides several images of parts of yellow birch. The tree is a hardwood and the lineal taxonomy is Magnoliopsida > Fagales > Betulaceae > Betula alleghaniensis Britt. Yellow birch is also commonly called gray birch, silver birch, and swamp birch.

3. The Range of Yellow Birch

Range of Yellow Birch
Yellow birch ranges from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Anticosti Island west through southern Ontario to extreme southeastern Manitoba; south to Minnesota and northeastern Iowa; east to northern Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania to northern New Jersey and New England; and south in the Appalachian Mountains to eastern Tennessee and northeastern Georgia. Southward yellow birch grows at higher elevations, appears more sporadically, and finally is restricted to moist gorges above 914 m (3,000 ft).

4. Yellow Birch at Virginia Tech

Leaf: Alternate, simple, ovate, 4 to 6 inches long, pinnately-veined, acute tip, rounded base, doubly serrate margins, somewhat soft or fuzzy, dark green above and paler below.

Twig: Slender, green-brown and hairy when young, light-brown and smooth later; spur shoots present on older trees; buds are ovoid, sharply pointed, reddish brown with ciliate scale margins. Twigs have a wintergreen smell when broken.

5. Fire Effects on Yellow Birch

Yellow birch seedlings and saplings are killed by even low-severity fires. Small trees were killed by fire that left large trees in a northern hardwoods forest unharmed. Large trees usually survive fire; Martin mentioned the presence of large, old yellow birch that predate a fire that initiated a red maple-paper birch stand in Ontario.

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