Betula papyrifera

Paper Birch, White Birch




  • the most widely distributed (east to west) of all North American birches
  • northern North America, Labrador to Alaska, south into Northern Rocky Mountains, northern plains states and Pennsylvania
  • zone 2

Habit and Form

  • a deciduous, medium-sized tree
  • 50' to 70' tall
  • more or less pyramidal when young
  • older trees become oval to rounded, with increasing irregularity in shape
  • individuals have single trunks, but nurseries often grow them in groups of 3 or 4 ("clump birches") individual seedlings planted together in a common container
  • fast growing, especially when young
  • typically branched to a few feet above the ground in open exposures
  • texture is medium

Summer Foliage

  • alternate, ovate, simple leaves, 2" to 4" long and 1.5" to 3" wide
  • often with an acuminate or pointed tip
  • leaf base either acute or heart-shaped
  • color is a dull, dark green above and paler on the underside

Autumn Foliage

  • clear bright yellow
  • typically dependable and showy


  • 2" to 4" long catkins, usually in 3's and some in pairs (male). Female catkins 1" to 1.5" long
  • blooming in early spring
  • prior to bloom, catkins are shorter
  • little ornamental value


  • catkins, 1" to 1.5" long, composed of nutlets
  • no ornamental importance


  • young branches show smooth, reddish-brown bark with horizontal lenticels
  • bark becoming papery, chalky white after about 4 seasons
  • bark exfoliates or peels in strips to expose orange inner bark
  • on very mature trunks, the white is mixed with rough, black patches
  • probably the best white bark birch. The bark remains white longer than B. pendula and turns white relatively quickly on young branches.


  • best adapted to cooler climates
  • does poorly in high summer heat, especially root zone heat
  • fairly soil adaptable, often found growing in sandy, gravely soils. Prefers well-drained, slightly acid sandy loam soils
  • easy to transplant and establish from container or B&B
  • not tolerant of pollution or difficult sites
  • full sun
  • avoid spring pruning to prevent bleeding

Landscape Use

  • for decoration from showy bark on fall color
  • as a lawn tree or specimen
  • in parks, on campuses, generally not for inner city
  • effective in small groupings
  • shade seems to be light enough to allow turf to survive underneath


  • bronze birch borer can be a serious problem and often hits trees just as they enter their peak in the landscape. Not as bad as B. pendula
  • can get leaf miner, but not as badly as B. populifolia
  • not tolerant of harsh conditions or heat
  • bark can be slow to turn white for the impatient
  • vandalism of the bark by carving of ones initials, leaving black scars

ID Features

  • white bark that is chalky and exfoliates (compare to (B. pendula whose bark does not exfoliate)
  • catkins in 2's or 3's and fatter than other 3-catkin species like B. nigra and B. pendula


  • by seed
  • cuttings can be tricky to root and overwinter


There is considerable variation across the geographic range, but few selections have made the leap to commercial acceptance or availability.

'Chickadee' - A fastigiate selection with good white bark.

'Snowy' (Snowy™) - A selection with handsome white bark and purported resistance to borers. Also appears to grow quickly as a young plant.

© Copyright Mark H. Brand, 1997-2015.

The digital materials (images and text) available from the UConn Plant Database are protected by copyright. Public use via the Internet for non-profit and educational purposes is permitted. Use of the materials for profit is prohibited.

Citation and Acknowledgements: University of Connecticut Plant Database,, Mark H. Brand, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, Storrs, CT 06269-4067 USA.