Paper Birch

Close-up of tree trunk in the fall.

Betula papyrifera

Paper birch is a stand-out in all seasons due to its unique white, peeling bark, but in the fall, the leaves almost glow as they change from green to golden yellow before joining their companions on the ground. In warmer weather, this mid-sized tree stands gracefully, either single or multi-stemmed, providing the perfect dappled shade to keep your yard cool, but bright. 

Pair paper birch with evergreens, such as eastern red cedar, to show off the white bark, or with other deciduous trees, such as Freeman’s maple or common hackberry. The light shade they cast allows a variety of wildflowers and groundcovers to be planted below. Try a combination of wild blue phlox, wild geranium, Pennsylvania sedge and heart-leaved asters for coverage and colour through the seasons.

Plant in a sunny, low-traffic location with sandy to loamy soils. While paper birch can tolerate drought, some salt and nearby black walnut trees, its roots do not tolerate regular walking. Unfortunately, paper birch are susceptible to insects such as bronze birch borer, as well as bacteria and fungi. Take note of any abnormalities and contact a certified arborist to keep your tree in optimal health. Avoid pulling off the curling strips of bark. This can weaken or damage the tree.

Paper birch host mourning cloak caterpillars, and a variety of moth caterpillars. These critters make an excellent, high protein lunch for birds such as woodpeckers, blue jays and finches. They also provide seeds and shelter throughout the winter for many birds like chickadees, juncos and redpolls. 

When leaves fall, use them as mulch in your garden, or add to leaf piles for later use. 

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