paper birch

(Betula papyrifera var. papyrifera)

Conservation Status
paper birch
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FACU - Facultative upland


FACU - Facultative upland

  Northcentral & Northeast

FACU - Facultative upland


Paper birch is a medium-sized, fast-growing, deciduous tree. It rises often on a single trunk, sometimes 2 or more trunks, from a shallow root system. It can reach up to 98 tall and 32 or more in diameter at breast height, though in Minnesota mature trees are usually no more than 60 tall and 24 in diameter. It is short-lived, usually surviving no more than 120 years, though older individuals can be up to 250 years old.

The trunk is slender, often curved, and often slightly leaning. It is distinct into the middle part of the crown or higher with few lower branches. The crown is pyramidal on young trees, narrowly oval and open on mature trees. The branches are ascending.

The bark on trees less than 5 years old is thin, smooth, and reddish-brown or orangish-brown, with conspicuous, pale, horizontal lenticels. On mature stems the bark is bright, creamy white with prominent, dark lenticels. The white bark is thin and peels in papery, horizontal strips. It often sheds in large sheets. The inner bark is reddish-orange. At the base of older trees the bark often becomes gray and deeply furrowed.

First-year twigs are slender and hairy at first, becoming dark reddish-brown with sparse, warty lenticels. Second-year twigs are hairless. Freshly cut twigs do not have a wintergreen odor or taste.

The buds are slender, 3 16 to ¼ long, tapered, and hairless. They are widest at the base and taper to a blunt point. The are covered with chestnut-brown scales that are often greenish at the base. They are covered with resin, making them gummy to the touch.

The leaves are deciduous and alternate. They are borne on shoots; 2 or sometimes 3 from a short, lateral shoot, and 1 from a longer shoot at the end of the twig. Each leaf is on a to 1 long, usually hairless leaf stalk (petiole). The petiole is not flattened. The leaf blade is egg-shaped, 2 to 4 long, and 1¼ to 2½ wide. It is rounded, broadly angled, or nearly straight across at the base. It tapers to a point at the tip with straight or concave sides along the tip. The upper surface is dark green, dull, and hairless or nearly hairless. The lower surface is pale green and hairy along the main vein and in the vein axils. The margins are doubly-toothed with sharp, forward pointing teeth. There are 35 to 55 teeth per side. In autumn the leaves turn light yellow.

Male and female flowers are borne on the same tree and on the same branch. Male catkins are preformed in the late summer. They droop singly or in groups of 2 or 3 from the tips of leafless twigs, and sometimes from lateral shoots. They are ¾ to 1 long the first year, growing to 1½ to 4 long the following spring.

Female catkins appear singly on leafy, lateral branchlets on current-year twigs. They are to ¾ long and erect.

The fruit is a cylinder-shaped cone containing many tiny, two-winged nutlets (samaras). It ripens in mid-August to mid-September. The nutlets are dispersed in the fall and early winter.




40 to 65




The champion paper birch in Minnesota is on private property near Hibbing, in St. Louis County. In 2002 it was measured at 55 tall and 121 in circumference (38½ in diameter), with a crown spread of 52.


Flower Color




Similar Species


Mountain paper birch (Betula cordifolia) leaf blade has a heart-shaped base.


Moist to dry. Shade intolerant.




Late April to early June


Pests and Diseases


Birch-leaf blotchminer moth (Cameraria betulivora)

In 1988-89 Minnesota lost as much as 20% of its paper birch trees due to drought.




Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 24, 28, 29, 30.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Rosanae  


Fagales (beeches, oaks, walnuts, and allies)  


Betulaceae (birch)  
  Subfamily Betuloideae  


Betula (birches)  
  Subgenus Betula (typical birches)  
  Section Betula  
  Species paper birch (Betula papyrifera)  

Subordinate Taxa








Common Names


canoe birch

eastern paper birch

paper birch

silver birch

white birch













The upper angle where a branch, stem, leaf stalk, or vein diverges.



A slim, cylindrical, drooping cluster of many flowers. The flowers have no petals and are either male or female but not both.



A corky, round or stripe-like, usually raised, pore-like opening in bark that allows for gas exchange.



On plants: The stalk of a leaf blade or a compound leaf that attaches it to the stem. On ants and wasps: The constricted first one or two segments of the rear part of the body.



A dry fruit consisting of a seed attached to a papery wing; one seeded in Elms and Ashes, two-seeded in Maples.

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  Betula papyrifera
Blake C. Willson
  Betula papyrifera  

Paper Birch

  Paper Birch Tree Video

Uploaded on May 13, 2009

A movie about The Paper Birch Tree. It is found in Northern Illinois, as well as other places in the Norhtern Hemisphere.




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Other Videos
  Trees with Don Leopold - paper birch

Uploaded on Sep 23, 2011

No description available.

  how to identify Betula papyrifera
Laura Deeter

Uploaded on Oct 2, 2008

short movie on the key id features

  Fire with Wet Birch Bark and Firesteel

Uploaded on May 23, 2010 - Talking about my last video and some questions about it from YouTubers, different types of birch bark, and starting fire with just wet birch bark from a paper birch and firesteel.




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July 2020

Location: Lake Shore

paper birch  

Avon Hills Forest SNA, North Unit

Badoura Jack Pine Woodland SNA

Baker Park Reserve

Banning State Park

Beaver Creek Valley State Park

Blackhoof River WMA

Blaine Preserve SNA

Blaine Wetland Sanctuary

Blanket Flower Prairie SNA

Boot Lake SNA

Brownsville Bluff SNA

Bunker Hills Regional Park

Butterwort Cliffs SNA

Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center

Carver Park Reserve

Charles A. Lindbergh State Park

Chimney Rock SNA

Cleary Lake Regional Park

Crystal Spring SNA

Dry Sand WMA

Falls Creek SNA

Frontenac State Park

George Crosby Manitou State Park

Glendalough State Park

Great River Bluffs State Park

Greenwater Lake SNA

Gustafson’s Camp SNA

Hayes Lake State Park

Hemlock Ravine SNA

Hyland Lake Park Reserve

Iona’s Beach SNA

Itasca State Park

Itasca Wilderness Sanctuary SNA

Jay Cooke State Park

John A. Latsch State Park

John Peter Hoffman Spring Brook Valley WMA

King’s and Queen’s Bluff SNA

La Salle Lake SNA

Lake Alexander Woods SNA, South Unit

Lake Bemidji State Park

Lake Byllesby Regional Park

Lake Carlos State Park

Lake Maria State Park

Lawrence Creek SNA

Lebanon Hills Regional Park

Lester Lake SNA

Lost 40 SNA

Lutsen SNA

Maplewood State Park

McCarthy Beach State Park

Miesville Ravine Park Reserve

Mille Lacs Kathio State Park

Mille Lacs Moraine SNA

Mille Lacs WMA

Minneopa State Park

Moose Lake State Park

Mound Prairie SNA

Myhr Creek Ridge SNA

Old Mill State Park

Partch Woods SNA

Paul Bunyan Savanna

Pine Bend Bluffs SNA

Potato Lake SNA

Rice Lake Savanna SNA

Ripley Esker SNA

River Terrace Prairie SNA

Robert Ney Memorial Park Reserve

Rockville County Park

Rushford Sand Barrens SNA

St. Croix Savanna SNA

St. Croix State Park

Savanna Portage State Park

Scenic State Park

Seminary Fen SNA

Seven Mile Creek County Park

Sibley State Park

Spring Beauty Northern Hardwoods SNA

Spring Creek Prairie SNA

Spring Lake Park Reserve

Stanley Eddy Memorial Park Reserve

Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center

Sunfish Lake Park

Tamarack Nature Center

Twin Lakes SNA

Valley View Park

Vermillion River WMA

Whitewater State Park

Wild River State Park

William O’Brien State Park

Wood-Rill SNA

Woodland Trails Regional Park

Zumbro Falls Woods SNA







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