Consider this tremendous tree: A big, bursting river birch

by Kathy WarnerMy Nassau Sun logo
Nassau County Master Gardener

Want to plant a tremendous tree? Look no further than the river birch, Betula nigra. Indigenous to the eastern United States, the river birch is commonly found in flood plains and/or swamps. Native Americans used the boiled sap as a sweetener similar to maple syrup, and the inner bark as a survival food.

River Birch

Seedling river birch is common in the marketplace, and there are at least two superb cultivars available, Heritage and Dura Heat.

The Society of Municipal Arborists selected Heritage as the 2002 Urban Tree of the Year. It outgrows other seedlings rapidly, yet the wood is not brittle. Its leaves are less prone to leaf spot even during hot humid weather.

With a foliage canopy denser than other species, Dura Heat also has leaf spot resistance. Better adapted to heat than other birches, Dura Heat tolerates the scorching summers of the south and can survive modest droughts.

Both species have good wind resistance, an enormous benefit during hurricane season, and would be excellent trees for North Florida landscapes.

Fast growing, a mature river birch can reach a height of 70 feet. Heritage will grow about 30 inches or more each year in colder climates, and even faster in the south.

Trees may be trained with one central leader or as a multi-stemmed tree. The branches droop when they are wet, so be careful when locating them close to areas where clearance is needed for vehicular traffic.

A tree for all seasons, the butter-yellow leaves of the river birch provide bright color in the fall. The bark peels in lovely flakes of cinnamon, beige and creamy white, adding colorful winter interest and making it a favorite tree for ornamental use.

The river birch is very well-suited for planting along stream banks, in areas subject to flooding, and in naturalistic areas. It also works well in home landscapes, parks, golf courses, and other public grounds.

In urban settings it tends to live around 30-40 years, and will look great for about two decades or more, much better than many other trees commonly planted in municipal areas.

If you want to enhance your landscape with a tremendous tree, give careful consideration to the river birch.



Master Gardener volunteers are trained by County Horticultural Extension agents and are required to serve 75 volunteer hours in year one of their accreditation and 50 volunteer hours annually in all subsequent years to maintain their certification.

Nassau County master gardeners serve under the direction of Rebecca L. Jordi, UF/IFAS Nassau County Horticultural Extension Agent. For information on the master gardener program and application requirements, contact Jordi at 548-1116 or



Kathy Warner

Kathy Warner is an Amelia Island resident and an active master gardener volunteer with the Nassau County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.