46. Yellow Birch - Friess Lake School District

Common Name of Plant: Yellow Birch
Scientific Name of Plant: Betula alleghaniensis Britton
Average Height of Plant: 70 ft
Blooming Time: April - May
Ask the Botanist
What are the leaves like?
The oval, simple leaves are 3 to 5 inches long. The edges are double-toothed with the top side
of the leaf darker than the underside. The leaves are alternate on each branch.
What type of flowers bloom on this plant? What do the seedpods or seeds look like?
Each tree has both male and female flowers and blooms in April and May. The male flowers
are in catkins that look like fluffy caterpillars. These purplish-yellow catkins are about 10 cm
long and carry pollen which is carried by the wind. The greenish female catkin flowers are
much smaller. The seed pods are also catkins about 1 inch long which contain winged-seeds
that ripen in the fall.
What is unusual about the stem or trunk?
The bark is silvery, yellow-gray in color. It is thin and smooth on young branches but breaks
into narrow strips curled at the edges when it is older just like paper birch. The bark on the
young branches is covered with lenticels that look like tan, horizontal dashes.
How is this plant important to animals? Has it also been used by people?
Deer and moose browse on yellow birch trees. Other wildlife such as snowshoe hare,
porcupine, and red squirrels eat seedlings. Birds such as yellow-bellied sapsucker, common
redpoll, and ruffed grouse also feed on yellow birch trees. Birch oil smells like wintergreen
and is used for its aroma; the oil, however, can be toxic to humans. The hard wood from
birch trees is used by humans for furniture, flooring, and interior finishes.
What location does this plant prefer?
Yellow birches are more abundant in northern Wisconsin than in the southern half of the state.
The yellow birch usually prefers rich, moist soils and can even grow in swamps. These trees
can tolerate more shade than paper birch but less shade than sugar maples. Yellow birch is a
pioneer tree; it is one of the first trees to grow after a disturbance such as fire.
Whole Plant
Stem or Tree Bark