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Environmental Studies

Betula papyrifera (Paper Birch) Betulaceae


Physical Characteristics


  • simple, alternate, ovate shaped leaves
  • acute tip and rounded base (sometimes heart-shaped)
  • appear paler beneath


Flower  | Fruit:

  • monoecious
  • either male or female and are in narrow catkins
  • Female catkins are 2 to 4 centi-metres long, standing erect at the tip of the branch
  • Male catkins are longer and hang below the branch
  • Flowers appear before or at the same time as the leaves.
  • nutlets have wings broader than the seed. Each tree produces thousands of seeds.

Twig | Branches: 

  • Slender dull red-brown, numerous lighter lenticels
  • lacks wintergreen smell when cut
  • terminal buds absent
  • lateral buds are gummy, green and chestnut brown in color
  • spur shoots present on older growth


  • Thin, white to reddish-brown
  • has dark horizontal slits (known as lenticels)
  • peels in horizontal papery strips, exposing reddish-orange inner bark which will gradually turn black with age. 

Life Span: 

  • 80 to 100 years.
  • In a stressful environment, or in landscape use, birch only live about 30 to 40 years

Ecological Characteristics

  • Prefers cool, moist climates
  • Grows on a variety of soils
  • Abundant on rolling upland terrain and floodplain sites, but it also grows on open slopes, avalanche tracks, swamp margins and in bogs
  • Doesn’t grow well in shade
  • Often occurs in younger forests following a disturbance
  • When used in landscape planting, it should not be planted near Black Walnut as a chemical from the roots can be toxic to the Birch
  • Native to (see image below)

 Importance to the Ecosystem

  • Seed is eaten by the wood duck, ruffed grouse, turkey, pheasant, blue heron, chickadee, and many others
  • can be an important winter food for many forest animals including deer and moose
  • Many birds will use paper birch for nesting including woodpeckers, sapsuckers, and vireos

Interesting Facts

  • Can burn when wet
  • New Hampshire state tree



  • Paper birch has a hard, straight-grained wood and was once used for spools and spindles
  • The American Indians across North America used birch for utensils and canoes
  • Today it is used as a cabinet and furniture wood