The white bark of paper-bark birch is what draws your eye to the plant. It peels off in papery strips, contrasting with the orange-brown inner bark. Older trees develop black marks on their white bark, making them the perfect subject for many landscape paintings, especially when bearing their pure yellow fall leaves.
In cool northern climates, paper birch is an excellent landscape tree that mixes well with evergreens. It prefers afternoon shade and medium to wet, well drained soil . Plant this tree where the roots will remain cool. You will find it growing naturally in low, wet areas, moist hillsides, and stream banks. It is often side-by-side with bearberry, dwarf bush-honeysuckle, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and elderberry.
The trees usually grow to about 60 feet with an oval rounded crown. It is a pioneer species, meaning it will grow well on disturbed sites.
The Philadelphia Vireo and Black-Throated Green Warbler peel off strips of the bark for their nests. Resist the temptation to peel the bark yourself, as this causes scarring on the tree. Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Black-Capped Chickadee, Tree Swallow, several woodpeckers, and hawks build nests on the branches or within the cavities of Paper Birch.
Paperbark birch is the larval host for the Luna Moth and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Yellow bellied sapsuckers favor this tree and tap away at the trunks. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds follow after the sapsuckers, and feed on the sap holes.
The list of birds that eat the seed includes: Black-Capped Chickadee, White-Winged Crossbill, Slate-Colored Junco, Common Redpoll, Fox Sparrow, and Pine Siskin. The Ruffed Grouse and Purple Finch eat the buds and/or catkins.
Native peoples made lightweight canoes with paper-birch bark. They stretched it over frames made from Northern White-cedar, sewed it with thread from larch roots, and the caulked the seams with pine or fir resin. The sap of paper bark birch was used as a remedy for colds.
Birch is one of the most widely used woods for veneer and plywood and is also used for doors, furniture, and paneling. Ice cream sticks, toothpicks, clothespins, and broom handles are also made from birch wood.
In hot climates, paper bark birch is more susceptible to various borers and disease and will be shorter lived. If you have the right place for this picturesque tree, give it a try! Plant it, sit back, and watch the show nature will provide year-round.