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River birch is a fast-growing shade tree species. As the common name implies, river birch trees tolerate wet soils and are a very suitable species for portions of the landscape that characteristically have moist soil, such as low areas or in poorly drained soils. The nursery industry usually produces this species with multiple trunks (three trees grown in a clump) to maximize the showiness of the beautiful peeling (exfoliating) bark. The bark begins to peel in thin papery sheets on branches that are about 2 inches in diameter; underlying the peeling bark is the living bark in shades of tans, browns, and cinnamon browns. Peeling bark colors are tans, whites, grays, creams, and browns. Seedling-grown trees exhibit a great amount of variation in bark color and peeling characteristics. The bark of mature branches and trunks (diameter of more than 16 inches) does not peel and has gray or blackish irregular scales. There are several river birch cultivars that vary in growth rate, bark color, and foliage characteristics. Heritage® is a very popular fast-growing cultivar with showy bark, handsome foliage, and a good yellow fall foliage color. Other noteworthy clones include City Slicker® (tolerates drought and alkaline soils; handsome bark), Dura-Heat® (heat tolerant; handsome foliage), and the dwarf Fox Valley® (also known as ‘Little King’).
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Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.
October 3, 2018