(Image credit: krblokhin)

Even if you aren’t familiar with water birch (Betula occidentalis), you may guess that this tree tolerates wet soil. And this is entirely true. Birches in general appreciate moist soil, and the water birch tree takes it one step further. 

But there’s more to know about this common red birch tree. Read on for more fun facts about the water birch. 

Meet the Red Birch Tree

The water birch is also known as the red birch, river birch and western birch. Its natural range extends from Alaska and the Pacific northwest across to the Rocky Mountains. The red birch prefers growing in the lowlands, along streambanks and riverbanks.

Betula occidentalis is a relatively short, scrubby tree with multiple trunks, none growing very thick in diameter. These water birch trees top out at around 24 feet (8m.) tall. 

Water Birch Facts

Water birch trees are deciduous, losing their leaves in winter. They generally take an upright growth form when they are young; as they mature, the branches tend to droop. The twigs grow in a reddish color, accounting for the common name “red birch.” 

The bark of the red birch tress is shiny and thin. The leaves are small and toothed around the edges, a yellow-green on top and paler below. In the autumn, the leaves turn a bright, canary yellow and can be spotted from miles away. They produce both male and female catkins, the males about twice as long as the pendulous females.

Growing a Water Birch Tree

If you are thinking of growing a water birch, don’t worry if you’re in a cold climate. This tree is hardy down to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 2. The water birch prefers a site that gets plenty of sun and offers moist, well-drained soil.

A riparian plant, the water birch is usually found in the wild growing along rivers, streams, springs, or other water courses. If you are planning on cultivating this birch tree, think about using soaker hoses to keep the ground moist. Bark mulches on top of the soil is also a good idea. 

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.