Yellow Birch

Yellow Birch Betula AlleghaniensisYellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) is also known as gray birch, silver birch, and swamp birch; a medium to large deciduous tree that grows 60 to 80 feet (maximum 100 feet) with a trunk diameter of 2 to 4 feet.  Yellow birch is one of the largest of the eastern hardwoods. It is very similar to sweet birch, but easily distinguished by its bark; an amber-yellow to silvery yellow-gray bark that peels off in thin curls.

white birch leaves
White Birch Leaves - Photo by Keith Kanoti, Maine Forest Service,

Habitat: Confined to northeast Iowa. Found growing on steep wooded, rocky north facing slopes.

Hardiness: Zones 3 through 9

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.

Flowering Dates: April - May

Seed Dispersal Dates: September - Spring

Seed Bearing Age: 40 years

Seed Bearing Frequency: Every 2 years

Seed Stratification: Prechill for 2 months at 34°F to 40°F

The leaves are 4 inches long, finely double-toothed, oval and short-stalked, dark green on top and paler green beneath, fruiting catkins, and 3-6 flower buds.

The Yellow birch grows slowly, but makes up 75% of birch lumber in the United States. One of the most valuable of all birches, its heavy wood is used for furniture, flooring, and plywood. The thin peeled bark is highly flammable and is often used by campers as kindling.  It is also a preferred browse by white-tailed deer, the bark is eaten by hare, cottontail, and beaver, and the buds are eaten by ruffed grouse. 

green, yellow birch fruit
Yellow Birch Fruit - Photo by Bill Cook, Michigan State University,

The range extends from Newfoundland to Manitoba, south to Pennsylvania and Minnesota, and along the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia.  Seen commonly in the rich moist soils of northern Appalachians and Great Lakes region – grows in wetter environments then sweet birch.  In Iowa the yellow birch is confined to northeast Iowa growing on steep wooded rocky north facing slopes.

Pests that Can Affect Yellow Birch

yellow birch trunk with peeling, papery bark
Yellow Birch Bark - Photo by Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service,

yellow birch trunk
Yellow Birch Tree - Photo by Rob Routledge, Sault College,