Betula nigra

River Birch


Bare Root Plants

River Birch is a very adaptable tree that is distinguished by the thick, shaggy, and sometimes cork-like exfoliating layers of bark.  A large degree of variability is expressed between each individual tree; some showcase a coral or salmon hue in the inner layers.  Other trees hold a darker palette with more cinnamon tones.  Some reveal themselves in grayscale.  These colors will sometimes persist as the tree ages, but mature specimens usually have gray, fissured trunks with those outstanding colors reserved for the juvenile growth higher in the limbs.  River Birch produces both male and female catkins.  The male catkins dangle from twig ends as they reach maturity and flower, festooning the canopy outline in spring.  Female catkins develop shortly after; these are light green and look like fuzzy little cones among the leaf axils.  River Birch often grows as a multi-stemmed tree and fills out to an irregular crown with slight “weeping” tendencies.  Foliage turns a brilliant yellow in the fall, and the peeling bark provides unique contrast in the winter months. 

Betula nigra is a moisture-loving plant and performs best when situated near water – whether it’s a river, creek, detention pond, or seasonally flooded ditch.  Most native Betula species are more boreal and limited to the northern climates; River Birch is an exception, naturally found throughout the eastern half of Zones 4-9.  It tolerates heat and humidity while remaining largely immune to pests and diseases.  This tree thrives in full sun, although it will adjust to partial shade as it matures.  River Birch is very tolerant of highly acidic soils.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, Betula nigra is sensitive to highly calcified sites containing a lot of lime; this species will not survive in such alkaline conditions.  Prune only when the tree is dormant; River Birch has a sap run that, if trimmed during the flow, will cause the tree to “bleed sap” and make it susceptible to pests.   

This tree is an incredible ecological asset.  Many insects, especially moth and butterfly caterpillars, find food and shelter in River Birch.  The soft larvae are the ideal and highly proteinous foodsource for growing baby birds as well as insectivorous parent birds.  Many adult songbirds feast on the catkins, seeds, or buds - including Purple Finch, Black-Capped Chickadee, White-Winged Crossbill, and Pine Siskin.  White-tailed Deer and rabbits will browse the twigs, bark, and foliage. 

Also commonly known as Red Birch, Black Birch, and Water Birch

Live Plant Shipping Table

Spring Fall Age/Size
Dormant Bare Roots
April/May October 1-2 years/6"

3 Questions asked on Betula nigra

My area has a high soil ph, but if I amend the soil at planting, will it help the tree establish?
Hi Alyssa. River Birch can be rather sensitive to alkaline soils. Depending on where you are located and the bedrock beneath the planting site, this tree could acclimate - or it may succumb to chlorosis or other ailments. If the soil has high pH levels because it is based on calcareous content, such as limestone, amending the soil will give the tree a boost initially, but once the roots tap into deeper resources, it could be at risk.
Can you please tell me the approximate height of your river birch bare root trees? Thanks so much!
Hi Greg. The River Birch bare roots have at least 12" of top growth.
Will the bare roots be a clump form or tree form when the specimen matures? I see this tree sold in both forms at nurseries.
Hi Kristina. The River Birch bare roots are about 1 year old and still have very flexible growth habits. Site conditions will affect whether the tree develops as a clump or a single trunk. Trimming (intentional, accidental, or deer/rabbit induced) will also influence its form. Trees grow and develop their form based on the terminal -or leader- bud. If the terminal bud is cut or chomped, the tree develops branches; the more times it gets trimmed, the more bush-like it becomes. If you notice several stems are developing, but you would prefer a single-trunk tree, you can favor the central, dominant bud and encourage it to become the leader by trimming back the other buds.


Growing your own plants from seed is the most economical way to add natives to your home. Before you get started, one of the most important things to know about the seeds of wild plants is that many have built-in dormancy mechanisms that prevent the seed from germinating. In nature, this prevents a population of plants from germinating all at once, before killing frosts, or in times of drought. To propagate native plants, a gardener must break this dormancy before seed will grow.

Each species is different, so be sure to check the GERMINATION CODE listed on the website, in the catalog, or on your seed packet. Then, follow the GERMINATION INSTRUCTIONS prior to planting. Some species don't need any pre-treatment to germinate, but some species have dormancy mechanisms that must be broken before the seed will germinate. Some dormancy can be broken in a few minutes, but some species take months or even years.

Seed dormancy can be broken artificially by prolonged refrigeration of damp seed in the process of cold/moist STRATIFICATION. A less complicated approach is to let nature handle the stratifying through a dormant seeding, sowing seeds on the surface of a weed-free site in late fall or winter. Tucked safely beneath the snow, seeds will be conditioned by weathering to make germination possible in subsequent growing seasons.

To learn more, read our BLOG: How to Germinate Native Seeds

Dormant Bare Root Plants

We dig plants when they are dormant from our outdoor beds and ship them April-May and October. Some species go dormant in the summer and we can ship them July/August. We are among the few still employing this production method, which is labor intensive but plant-friendly. They arrive to you dormant, with little to no top-growth (bare-root), packed in peat moss. They should be planted as soon as possible. Unlike greenhouse-grown plants, bare-root plants can be planted during cold weather or anytime the soil is not frozen. A root photo is included with each species to illustrate the optimal depth and orientation. Planting instructions/care are also included with each order.

Download: Installing Your Bare-Root Plants

Potted Plants

3-packs and trays of 32, 38, or 50 plants leave our Midwest greenhouses based on species readiness (being well-rooted for transit) and order date; Spring shipping is typically early May through June, and Fall shipping is mid-August through September. Potted 3-packs and trays of 38 plugs are started from seed in the winter so are typically 3-4 months old when they ship. Trays of 32/50 plugs are usually overwintered so are 1 year old. Plant tray cells are approximately 2” wide x 5” deep in the trays of 38 and 50, and 2.5" wide x 3.5" deep in the 3-packs and trays of 32; ideal for deep-rooted natives. Full-color tags and planting & care instructions are included with each order.

Download: Planting and Care of Potted Plants

*PLEASE NOTE: we are a mail order nursery and have no retail facilities, but you may pick up your order if prior arrangements are made. Pick up orders are subject to **MN Sales Tax.

Shipping & Handling Charges

SEED $100.00 and under: $5.00
Retail SEED orders over $100.00 ship free!

Custom seed mixes or discounted seed sales over $100, add 5% of the total seed cost
(for orders over $1,000 a package signature may be required)

BARE ROOT and POTTED PLANTS $50.00 and under: $9.00
over $50.00: 18% of the total plant cost. (For orders over $1,000 a package signature may be required.)

TOOLS and BOOKS have the shipping fee included in the cost of the product (within the contiguous US).

**We are required to collect state sales tax in certain states. Your state's eligibility and % will be calculated at checkout. MN State Sales Tax of 7.375% is applied for orders picked up at our MN location. Shipping & handling charges are also subject to the sales tax.

Shipping Season

SEED, TOOLS and BOOKS are sent year-round. Most orders ship within 1-3 business days.

BARE ROOT PLANTS are shipped during optimal transplanting time: Spring (April-May) and Fall (Oct). Some ephemeral species are also available for summer shipping. Since our plants are field-grown, Nature sets the schedule each year as to when our season will begin and end. We fill all orders, on a first-come, first-serve basis, to the best of our ability depending on weather conditions beyond our control.

POTTED PLANTS (Trays of 32/38/50 plugs and 3-packs) typically begin shipping early May and go into June; shipping time is heavily dependent on all the species in your order being well-rooted. If winter-spring greenhouse growing conditions are favorable and all species are well-rooted at once, then we ship by order date (first come, first serve). We are a Midwest greenhouse, and due to the challenges of getting all the species in the Mix & Match and Pre-Designed Garden Kits transit-ready at the same time, we typically can't ship before early May. Earlier shipment requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

*We are unable to ship PLANTS (bare root or potted) outside the contiguous US or to CALIFORNIA due to regulations.


We ship using USPS, UPS and Spee Dee. UPS and Spee Dee are often used for expediting plant orders; they will not deliver to Post Office Box numbers, so please also include your street address if ordering plants. We send tracking numbers to your email address so please include it when you order.



Life Cycle
Sun Exposure
Full, Partial
Soil Moisture
Wet, Medium-Wet, Medium
to 80 feet
Bloom Time
April, May
Bloom Color
Bird Favorite: seeds, insects, fruit, nectar, nesting, perch
Deer Resistant
USDA Zones
Plant Spacing
Catalog Code