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BETULA occidentalis

Image of Betula occidentalis

Jesse Saylor

Family

Betulaceae

Botanical Name

BETULA occidentalis

Plant Common Name

Water Birch

Special Notice

This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.

General Description

This birch is so named because of its natural association or occurrence near montane streams, lakes and moist glens. Water birch is a deciduous large shrub with a wide-spreading habit. It's native to the cooler mid-elevations of western North America, sporadically from central Alaska to Hudson Bay south to California and Arizona. The smooth bark is reddish brown to dark bronze with light colored lenticel dots. With age the bark is drab bleached gray.

The satin-glossy green leaves are broad ovals, sometimes resembling rhombuses. Leaf edges are sharply toothed, even doubly toothed. In mid- to late spring, flowering occurs. Male catkins are long, while the female catkins are less showy and rounded. Wind pollination results in production of winged nutlets by the female flowers. When they ripen in late summer, the catkins shatter to release seeds. Fall foliage color ranges from light to medium yellow.

Grow water birch in abundant sunshine in average to wet soils. Although normally associated with neutral to alkaline soils, it tolerates acidity. Loam and sandy soils that are moist to seasonally flooded work especially well. Use water birch to create a natural buffer or river bank stabilizer. Although not magnificent as a specimen, the fall foliage and bark makes it a worthy addition to a mixed shrub border.

This species is synonymously known as Betula fontinalis. Water birch is also known to readily hybridize with other western North American birches. For example, the northwestern paper birch's (B. × utahensis) lineage is water birch crossed with the white paper birch (B. papyrifera). Water birch also crosses with the bog birch (B. glandulosa) to create Eastwood's birch (B. × eastwoodae).

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    7 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    2 - 7

  • Sunset Zone

    A3, 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10

  • Plant Type

    Shrub

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    12'-20' / 3.7m - 6.1m (15)

  • Width

    15'-30' / 4.6m - 9.1m (15)

  • Bloom Time

    Early Spring

  • Native To

    North America, Western United States, Northwestern United States, Alaska, California, Canada

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Average

  • Soil type

    Clay, Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Wet Site

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Spreading

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Insignificant

  • Flower Color

    Light Yellow

  • Fruit Color

    Bronze, Sandy Brown

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Light Yellow

  • Bark Color

    Brown, Sienna

  • Bark Color Modifier

    Spotted/Mottled

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Glossy

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    Yes

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Smooth

  • Usage

    Screening / Wind Break, Shade Trees

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    No