Native Americans used the boiled sap as a sweetener similar to maple syrup, and the inner bark as a survival food. Unlike the white-barked birches, river birch’s tolerance of bronze birch borer, birch leaf miner, and drought and heat are part of why it has become the birch of choice for landscaping around the country, and the only choice for the south. The tree is fast growing, commonly to heights of 60 feet.. The wood is medium to lightweight and quite sturdy. It is excellent for carving and has a number of carpentry and furniture-making applications.
Culture for River Birch
As its name suggests, river birch naturally grows along river banks. But as a landscape tree, it can be planted almost anywhere. Prefers acid soils. Loves water but tolerates drought. Can be trained as either a single trunk or multi-trunked tree. Multi-trunked trees form a more irregular crown and are generally considered to be the superior growth habit.
Concerns about River Birch
One of the most insect and disease-free birches. But its fast growth often makes it too big for its site in a short time. Plus, summer shedding of leaves, constant dropping of small limbs and shallow exposed roots make it a high-maintenance species.
Management Practices for River Birch
Requires frequent pruning to maintain size and reduce shedding of small branches. Often requires cabling with size and age. Pruning cuts tend to “bleed” when made during growing season.