Paper Birch

Paper Birch Betula papyriferaPaper birch (Betula papyrifera) is also known as white birch or canoe birch. It is a showy tree in the woods with its white bark. Paper birch is not a large tree in Iowa and is used primarily for ornamental plantings. It has a clear, straight trunk and thin, rounded crown. It is found principally in the northeast part of Iowa, extending southwestward to Eldora. Paper birch occurs on moist wooded slopes and along streams.

Habitat: Found growing on steep north facing slopes and protected rocky bluffs. Most common in extreme northeast Iowa.

paper birch tree
Paper Birch Tree - Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

Hardiness: Zones 3 through 9

Growth Rate: Moderate to Rapid

Mature Shape: Pyramidal, open-rounded

Height: Varies with the species of birch tree. Ranging from 40 feet tall to 70 feet tall.

Width: Varies with species from 35 feet wide to 60 feet wide.

Site Requirements: Best planted in full sun, with moist, well-drained soils. Will tolerate a range of soils. River birch trees require a higher soil pH than most landscapes in Iowa provide and develop iron chlorosis, characterized by chartreuse- yellow leaves throughout the summer.

Leaves: Alternate, simple, and double-toothed with equal leaf bases

Flowering Dates: April - June

Seed Dispersal Dates: August - Spring

Seed Bearing Age: 15 years

Seed Bearing Frequency: Every 2 years

Seed Stratification: Prechill 75 days at 34°F to 40°F

white paper birch bark peeling like paper showing why its named paper birch
Paper Birch Bark - Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

The oval or heart-shaped leaves are pointed at the apex, rounded at the base and are irregularly double toothed. They are rather thick in texture and dull green on the upper side and yellowish green on the lower side.

The slender twigs are orange-brown to dull red in color and have the characteristic aromatic birch odor and taste. The heavily layered bark peels off in large sheets. Its chalky white color distinguished this tree from all others in the forest. At the base of old trunks the bark becomes blackish and furrowed.

Pests that Can Affect Paper Birch


paper birch fruit, one young and green, one brown
Paper Birch Fruit - Photos by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

paper birch twig
Paper Birch Twig - Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

paper birch leaf
Paper Birch Leaf - Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

paper birch flowers
Paper Birch Flowers - Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University