Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Betula nigra


SPECIES: Betula nigra
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Sullivan, Janet. 1993. Betula nigra. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
ABBREVIATION : BETNIG SYNONYMS : NO-ENTRY SCS PLANT CODE : BENI COMMON NAMES : river birch red birch black birch water birch TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for river birch is Betula nigra L. [22,35]. There are no accepted subspecies, varieties, or forms. LIFE FORM : Tree FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Betula nigra
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : River birch is found throughout the southeastern United States; local distributions are closely associated with alluvial soils. It is found from southern New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and Maryland west to eastern Indiana; north in the Mississippi Valley to Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota; south to Missouri, Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma, and eastern Texas; and east to northern Florida [21,22]. The distribution of river birch within this range excludes the Appalachian mountains, upland areas in central Tennessee and Kentucky, south-central Missouri, and the lower Mississippi Valley from southeastern Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico [21,22]. Locations of disjunct populations as reported by Little [22] include northeastern Massachussetts/southeastern New Hampshire, western New York, northern Ohio, northern Illinois, northern Indiana, and south-central Minnesota. In a study to determine the status of these disjunct populations, Coyle and others [5] confirmed the northeastern Massachussetts/southeastern New Hampshire population and three other naturally reproducing river birch populations outside of the main distribution: extreme western North Carolina, eastern Kansas, and northwestern Indiana. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES15 Oak - hickory FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood STATES : AL AR CT DE FL GA IL IN IA KS KY LA MD MA MN MS MO NH NJ NY NC OH OK PA SC TN TX VA WV WI BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : NO-ENTRY KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K098 Northern floodplain forest K101 Elm - ash forest K112 Southern mixed forest K113 Southern floodplain forest SAF COVER TYPES : 39 Black ash - American elm - red maple 61 River birch - sycamore 62 Silver maple - American elm 63 Cottonwood 65 Pin oak - sweetgum 87 Sweet gum - yellow-poplar 88 Willow oak - water oak - diamondleaf oak 91 Swamp chestnut oak - cherrybark oak 92 Sweetgum - willow oak 93 Sugarberry - American elm - green ash 94 Sycamore - sweetgum - American elm 95 Black willow 96 Overcup oak - water hickory SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : River birch is found in virtually every bottomland cover type, and its associates can be considered almost all bottomland plants in the eastern United States [13]. River birch is named as an overstory dominant, codominant, or indicator species in the following publications: 1. The natural forests of Maryland: an explanation of the vegetation map of Maryland [3] 2. Forest vegetation of the lower Alabama Piedmont [11] 3. Land classification in the Blue Ridge province: state-of-the- science report [23] 4. Southern swamps and marshes [25] 5. Classification and evaluation of forest sites in the Cumberland Mountains [29] 6. Classification and evaluation of forest sites on the Natchez Trace State Forest, State Resort Park, and Wildlife Managemant Area in west Tennessee [30] 7. Plant communities of the Coastal Plain of North Carolina and their successional relations [38]


SPECIES: Betula nigra
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE : River birch wood is hard, strong, and close-grained. It is, however, of limited commercial value since it is usually too knotty to be used for lumber [7,13]. Its main uses are for local furniture manufacture, basket materials, small woodenware, and fuel. River birch is occasionally harvested with other bottomland species for pulpwood [7], and is used in some areas for veneer [6]. Since the wood is strong and lighter than commercially important birches, it is suitable for artificial limbs and toys [13]. IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : A number of species of birds eat river birch seeds including ruffed grouse and wild turkey [34]. White-tailed deer browse river birch [13]. The bottomland hardwoods in which river birch occurs are prime wildlife habitat, providing nesting sites for waterfowl, and food and cover for many animals [24]. PALATABILITY : NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE : NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE : NO-ENTRY VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : River birch is used for strip mine reclamation and erosion control [13]. It is well suited for moderately to poorly drained minesoils, particularly where soils are too acid for other hardwoods. In Missouri, river birch has better form on acid sites than it does on better sites with heavier ground cover [36]. In West Virginia, river birch established on mine refuse sites that had been covered with a layer of seed-containing topsoil from neighboring areas. It was not determined if river birch seeds were in the soil seedbank or disseminated from nearby trees [26]. OTHER USES AND VALUES : River birch is planted as an ornamental, especially in the Northeast and Midwest [7]. It is well suited for damp ground, but is also somewhat drought tolerant [4]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : River birch is not planted for commercial purposes, but could be managed using even-aged systems [13]. In Mississippi, river birch occurred in a 13-year-old stand of mixed hardwoods that established on an old field. River birch responded to thinning and exhibited faster growth than sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), the target species [41]. If left unpruned, it often becomes multitrunked in its first or second year, breaking at ground level into several splayed stems [4]. Clearcutting promotes regeneration of the early seral bottomland hardwoods in which river birch is found; advance regeneration does not occur in these intolerant species. To avoid extremes of soil loss and lowered water quality, stands should not be harvested within 50 feet (15.2 m) of streams [24]. River birch is more disease resistant and heat tolerant than other birches [4]. It is one of a number of deciduous species that are favored by gypsy moth larvae at all stages of larval development [12].


SPECIES: Betula nigra
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : River birch is a medium-sized, native, deciduous tree. Isolated specimens have reached 100 feet (30.5 m), but the usual height range is 50 to 80 feet (15.2-24.4 m) and 24 to 36 inches (61-91 cm) d.b.h. [13]. In Wisconsin, it is usually a small, multistemmed tree [2]. The bark is separated into thin papery scales, with coarse scales on lower trunks [7]. It is fairly short-lived [5,34]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM : Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Good seed crops are usually produced annually [13]. The winged seeds are wind or water disseminated. Water dissemination is probably more important because water deposits the seeds on moist shores favorable to germination and establishment [39]. The seeds germinate rapidly in moist alluvial soil, often in large numbers, forming thickets on sandbars [13]. The seeds are apparently viable only a few days [24]. However, Koevenig [42] reported that seeds with the fruit wall and seed coat removed will germinate even after 5 months in storage. He concluded that a germination inhibitor builds up in either the fruit wall or seed coat. River birch does not spread vegetatively, but multiple stems arising from stump sprouts are common [13]. Because of this, river birch is resilient to flood damage. On a frequently flooded site in Wisconsin, 77 percent of river birch stems were of sprout origin, and the remainder were from seedlings [2]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : River birch occurs in wide range of climatic conditions. It is primarily a tree of alluvial soils (Entisols) [13]. River birch occurs largely on lowlands, floodplains, streambanks, and lake margins. Typical sites are sandbars and new land near streams, inside the natural levee or front [15]. It is occasionally found on scattered upland sites [7]. It is positively associated with clay soils [40]. Soils can be either well- or poorly drained, as long as they are at or near field capacity year-round [13,24]. River birch often occurs on soils that are too acid for most other hardwoods (pH range 2 to 4) [13], but also occurs on soils of higher pH [37]. River birch is moderately tolerant to flooding [13]. In a laboratory experiment, river birch seedlings survived up to 30 days of flooding, forming adventitious roots and prominent lenticel intumescences [32]. Of five floodplain species tested, river birch seedlings were moderately tolerant of inundation (complete coverage), and tolerant of waterlogging (soil saturated only) [19]. Mature trees exhibited 77 percent survival after 240 days of flooding, but none survived 730 days [16]. Seedlings are stunted by extended periods of flooding, but remain healthy if flooded for less than 24 percent of the growing season. River birch can occur in soils that are waterlogged about 50 percent of the time [16,24]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : River birch is intolerant of shade. It is an early pioneer on stream bank alluvium, and requires high soil moisture coupled with no shade for germination and establishment [13]. River birch may be the initial colonizer of sandbars, or may establish after sandbars are stabilized by more flood-tolerant alders (Alnus spp.) or willows (Salix spp.) [25]. In Maryland, small stream valleys with shallow surface water are colonized by hazel alder (Alnus serrulata), and then invaded by river birch [17]. River birch is the most common species on disturbed streambanks in Tennessee. It readily establishes on the soils exposed by stream channelization projects and remains important for a number of years, even after canopy closure [18]. Myers and Buchman [24] classify river birch stands as subclimax; river birch usually follows willows and is replaced by other hardwoods, generally oaks. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Male catkins are formed on twig tips in the fall and mature the following April or May. Female catkins appear with the leaves and open in early spring. The fruit matures in late spring or early summer, and is dispersed upon maturity [13].


SPECIES: Betula nigra
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : River birch occurs in bottomland hardwood forests that are usually subject only to surface fires. Fire occurs approximately every 5 to 8 years, when climatic drought extends a dry summer into the fall, creating conditions in which surface fires can cause great damage. Surface fires in these bottomlands usually move rapidly, consuming abundant shrub and herbaceous materials. Seedlings and small saplings of all species are usually killed by these fires. Larger trees can be scorched, leaving wounds that can develop into catfaces and are points of entry for rot, stain, and insects. Under extreme conditions, large trees of all species may be killed [27]. River birch is ranked intermediate in ecological fire tolerance by Givnish [10]. This ranking is based on its occurrence on sites that either have short fire-free intervals or recently experienced fire. River birch that has been top-killed by fire usually sprouts from the root crown. Sites cleared by fire may be seeded by nearby trees, provided that adequate flooding occurs to carry acorns. Of 13 species tested, river birch bark was intermediate in heat resistance in the 0.20-inch- (0.508-mm-) thick category, but ranked relatively lower with increasing bark thicknesses; even though the heat resistance of river birch bark increases with thickness, other tree species gain more heat resistance for the same amount of thickness gain [14]. FIRE REGIMES : Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY : Tree with adventitious-bud root crown/soboliferous species root sucker Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)


SPECIES: Betula nigra
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Information on the relationship between fire severity and damage to river birch is lacking. Seedlings and saplings of river birch are probably killed or top-killed by most surface fires. Severe fires will injure or kill mature trees. In southern Illinois, a barren on which river birch occurred was subjected to four prescribed fires from 1969 to 1973, after which no fires of any kind occurred. Large river birch trees apparently survived these spring fires, but seedlings were killed [1]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Repeated fires will probably eliminate river birch from a stand. In Wisconsin, river birch occurred on a number of floodplain locations, but did not occur in a neighboring low marsh that had been subjected to repeated grass fires [39]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : NO-ENTRY FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Prescribed fires are not recommended for the bottomland hardwoods in which river birch occurs. These forests are dependent on fire exclusion for successful reproduction. Fire is damaging to most mature hardwoods, causing wounds that can reduce the vigor and economic value of the trees [24,27].


SPECIES: Betula nigra
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Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press. 322 p. [12764] 8. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905] 9. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others]. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. [998] 10. Givnish, Thomas J. 1981. Serotiny, geography, and fire in the pine barrens of New Jersey. Evolution. 35(1): 101-123. [8634] 11. Golden, Michael S. 1979. Forest vegetation of the lower Alabama Piedmont. Ecology. 60(4): 770-782. [9643] 12. Gottschalk, Kurt W.; Twery, Mark J. 1989. Gypsy moth impacts in pine-hardwood mixtures. In: Waldrop, Thomas A., ed. Proceedings of pine-hardwood mixtures: a symposium on management and ecology of the type; 1989 April 18-19; Atlanta, GA. Gen. Tech. Rep. SE-58. 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Pollio, Carol A.; Davidson, Walter H. 1992. Native seed bank Brooklyn Reclamation Project. Park Science. 12(1): 10-11. [17787] 27. Putnam, John A. 1951. Management of bottomland hardwoods. Occasional Paper 116. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station. 60 p. [6748] 28. Raunkiaer, C. 1934. The life forms of plants and statistical plant geography. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 632 p. [2843] 29. Smalley, Glendon W. 1984. Classification and evaluation of forest sites in the Cumberland Mountains. Gen. Tech. Rep. SO-50. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station. 84 p. [9831] 30. Smalley, Glendon W. 1991. Classification & evaluation of forest sites on the Natchez Trace State Forest, State Resort Park, and Wildlife Management Area in w. Tennessee. SO-85. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station. 73 p. [17980] 31. 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A guide for revegetating coal minespoils in the eastern United States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-68. Broomall, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 190 p. [15577] 37. Ware, Stewart; Redfearn, Paul L., Jr.; Pyrah, Grant L.; Weber, Wallace R. 1992. Soil pH, topography and forest vegetation in the central Ozarks. American Midland Naturalist. 128(1): 40-52. [19722] 38. Wells, B. W. 1928. Plant communities of the Coastal Plain of North Carolina and their successional relations. Ecology. 9(2): 230-242. [9307] 39. Whitford, Philip Clason. 1990. River birch in central Wisconsin: a case study of colonization. Michigan Botanist. 29(4): 115-120. [21951] 40. Wolfe, Carl B., Jr.; Pittillo, J. Dan. 1977. Some ecological factors influencing the distribution of Betula nigra L. in western North Carolina. Castanea. 42(1): 18-30. [21952] 41. McGarity, R. W. 1979. Young sweetgum responds to early merchantable thinning. Southern Journal of Applied Forestry. 3(4): 157-160. [10617] 42. Koevenig, James L. 1976. Effect of climate, soil physiography and seed germination on the distribution of river birch (Betula nigra). Rhodora. 78(815): 420-437. [21950]