Pros And Cons Of River Birch Trees

The River Birch, also known as Betula nigra, grows in moist places like stream and river banks, floodplains, and wetlands. It is a popular shade tree that prefers wet, acidic, fertile soil and can grow in semi-aquatic conditions. Join us as we further explore the pros and cons of this beautiful tree.

The pros of the River Birch tree lie in its ability to prevent soil erosion and restore river banks, its ornamental beauty, hardiness, higher heat tolerance, and resistance to pests and disease. The cons are that it is messy as it sheds leaves and twigs, is shade intolerant, and needs acidic soil.

The 8 Pros Of River Birch Trees

The River Birch occurs naturally in the eastern US and grows forty to seventy feet tall. Its preference is full sun and has a spread of between thirty-five and sixty feet. Let’s look at the advantages it offers when compared to other trees

The River Birch Is More Disease Resistant Than Other Birch Species

Although it is susceptible to the bronze birch borer, this is usually when it has been weakened by stress from excessive humidity and heat. This happens more frequently when the River Birch is planted in regions with hot summers.

The River Birch Has Exceptional Value For Wildlife

Its riparian habit means it provides a welcome resting and nesting space for waterfowl. Its seeds provide food for many bird species, and it is an impressive shade tree. Deer browse the leaves, and pine siskins and redpolls feed on the catkins. The River Birch is host to four hundred and eleven moth and butterfly species.

The River Birch Has Considerable Ornamental Value

The outer bark of a mature River Birch provides an attractive mix of reddish-brown, dark red-brown, and tan that can be pretty vivid. When younger, the bark exfoliates in thin papery curls that go from white and orange to orange-brown, so the tree has considerable ornamental value.

They are spectacularly beautiful in the fall when their foliage turns a golden yellow before the leaves drop.

The River Birch Prevents Soil Erosion

The River Birch is valued more for its landscaping, erosion control, and land reclamation abilities than its wood. The massive roots are not invasive but spread densely just under the soil’s surface, fixing it in place. Due to its preference for watery habitats, the roots don’t penetrate the earth very deeply. The tree has been used to reclaim strip mines where the soil is too acidic for other trees to grow. It has been actively used in conservation to restore eroded river banks.

The River Birch Is Resistant To Flooding

The tree is resilient to flood damage as multiple stems will regrow from stumps. In laboratory experiments, seedlings were tolerant of waterlogging, and mature trees had a seventy-seven percent survival rate after two hundred and forty days of flooding. The River Birch can colonize sandbars in rivers, creating a foothold for other plants to grow after a flood.

The River Birch Grows In Places That Other Trees Find Too Damp.

A distinct advantage of the River Birch is that it will grow in places that other trees find too damp. It is thus a pioneer that helps stabilize the ecosystem to make way for other trees and plants to follow. It grows well in acidic, heavy clay soils that retain water but can also grow in well-draining soils so it can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions.

The River Birch Is More Heat Tolerant Than Other Birches

Other birch species prefer the cooler northern latitudes but the River Birch also occurs naturally in warmer southern states in the US. It therefore has a much more comprehensive range. It can be weakened and stressed by too much heat, and dry spells will cause it to drop leaves and twigs, but it is the most heat tolerant of the birch trees.

The River Birch Is A Wonderful Shade Tree In Summer

The canopy is a rounded pyramid shape that provides significant shade. The leaves are oval-shaped and medium to dark green with white undersides and serrated edges. They provide shelter for birds, animals, and people along river banks, flood plains, and streams.

The 5 Cons Of River Birch Trees

Birch trees are pretty hardy and can tolerate various soils and natural environments, but they have their weaknesses.

Iron Chlorosis Can Occur In The River Birch

If the pH of the soil isn’t acidic, this causes a sickly yellowing of the leaves in the summer. If the pH is too high, i.e., alkaline, the tree can’t absorb sufficient iron because it doesn’t dissolve properly. An iron deficiency is extremely difficult to correct because it requires lowering the soil’s pH, which is an almost impossible task.

Iron-containing compounds may help mildly chlorotic trees but must be applied with caution. The trees commonly exhibit chlorosis in regions where the soil is too alkaline, and there is not much anyone can do about it.

The River Birch Produces Sap That Attracts Sapsucking Birds And Insects

In states like Iowa, sapsucking pests afflict the River Birch include aphids and birds. The Woolly Alder Aphid looks like a flying white tuft of fuzzy cotton but is actually a minute insect that feeds on the tree’s sap. They can be a problem for the tree in large numbers, but they usually don’t do too much damage.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are woodpeckers with black and white backs that make holes in trees to feed on the sap and can occasionally kill a tree by feeding on it too heavily. The birds are protected by state, federal, and international law, so it is illegal to harm them. In the case of an individual tree, you could try wrapping the trunk when the sapsuckers are coming through on their annual migration.

Certain Insects Pests Can Damage The River Birch

The Spiny Elm Caterpillar and the Walking Stick feed on the leaves of the River Birch. Large populations can denude the leaves, but smaller numbers don’t usually cause severe damage

The Walking Stick has many common names, including stick insect, devil’s horse, and specter depending on where it’s found. The birch leafminer and the bronze birch border are other pests that attack birch trees, including the River Birch.

The bronze birch borer is a tunneling beetle that feeds on the cambium below the bark. The beetle can be a problem since the cambium carries nutrients and water throughout the tree but the River Birch is more resistant to this insect than other birches.

River Birches Are Pretty Messy Trees

The River Birch sheds pieces of bark, twigs, and leaves throughout the year but particularly in dry spells due to drought stress, so it can be pretty messy. It also drops catkins in the flowering season. While the branches are not brittle and are wind and ice resistant, they do die back from time to time, and the bark is constantly peeling.

The large dense roots are close to the surface and can starve nearby shrubs and smaller plants of water and nutrients.

The River Birch Will Tolerate Drier Soils But Won’t Grow In The Shade

A River Birch doesn’t need waterlogged soil to flourish and will tolerate drier soil. It prefers full sun, though, which means it doesn’t play nice with other trees. Although they sometimes occur in stands, these tend to disappear naturally because the seeds won’t germinate in the shade, and the taller trees cast too much shadow for the smaller ones to survive.