Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Betula papyrifera
SPECIES: Betula papyrifera
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Uchytil, Ronald J. 1991. Betula papyrifera. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service,
Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ .
Betula cordifolia Regel
Betula neoalaskana Sarg.
Betula neoalaskana var. kenaica (W. H. Evans) Boivin
Betula alaskana Sarg.
Betula papyrifera var. humilis (Reg.) Fern. & Raup
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name of paper birch is Betula
papyrifera Marsh. . It is wide ranging and exhibits considerable
ecotypic variation. Six intergrading geographical varieties are
var. papyrifera - typical paper birch
var. cummutata (Regel) Fern. - western paper birch
var. cordifolia (Regel) Fern. - mountain paper birch
var. kenaica (W. H. Evans) Henry - Kenai birch
var. neoalaskana (Sarg.) Raup - Alaska paper birch
var. subcordata (Rydb.) Sarg. - northwestern paper birch
Birch (Betula spp.) is a genetically plastic genus, often with
morphological variation continuous between species . Hybridization
is common. Paper birch naturally hybridizes with almost every native
species in the genus. Named hybrids include [38,51,57]:
B. p. var. neoalaskana x B. glandulosa = B. X eastwoodiae Sarg. (Syn. =
B. X dugleana Lepage)
B. papyrifera x B. nana = B. X hornei Butler
B. papyrifera x B. populifolia = B. X caerulea Blanchard
B. papyrifera x B. occidentalis = B. X utahensis (Britt.) Dugle (Syn.=
B. X piperi Britton)
B. papyrifera x B. pumila var. glandulifera = B. X sandbergii Britt.
Crosses with yellow birch (B. alleghaniensis), sweet birch (B. lenta),
and river birch (B. nigra) have not been named.
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Betula papyrifera
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Paper birch has a transcontinental distribution across northern North
America. It grows from Newfoundland and Labrador west along the
northern limit of tree growth across Canada to northwestern Alaska,
south to Washington, east and north in the mountains to western Montana
and southwestern Alberta, east across the Prairie Provinces to Manitoba,
and south and east through the Lake States to New England. Scattered
outlying populations occur in the Great Plains of Montana and North
Dakota, the Black Hills, the Appalachian Mountains from central New York
to western North Carolina, and the Front Range of Colorado . Paper
birch is cultivated in Hawaii .
Detailed descriptions of the ranges of the six varieties are available
FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES11 Spruce - fir
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
FRES19 Aspen - birch
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES22 Western white pine
FRES23 Fir - spruce
FRES24 Hemlock - Sitka spruce
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES38 Plains grasslands
AK CO CT HI ID IL IN IA ME MA
MI MN MT NE NH NJ NY NC ND OH
OR PA RI SD VT VA WA WV WI WY
AB BC LB MB NB NF NT NS ON PE
PQ SK YT
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
2 Cascade Mountains
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K013 Cedar - hemlock - pine forest
K014 Grand fir - Douglas-fir forest
K015 Western spruce - fir forest
K017 Black Hills pine forest
K066 Wheatgrass - needlegrass
K081 Oak savanna
K093 Great Lakes spruce - fir forest
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K096 Northeastern spruce - fir forest
K098 Northern floodplain forest
K102 Beech - maple forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
K107 Northern hardwoods - fir forest
K108 Northern hardwoods - spruce forest
SAF COVER TYPES :
1 Jack pine
5 Balsam fir
12 Black spruce
14 Northern pin oak
15 Red pine
17 Pin cherry
18 Paper birch
19 Gray birch - red maple
20 White pine - northern red oak - red maple
21 Eastern white pine
22 White pine - hemlock
23 Eastern hemlock
24 Hemlock - yellow birch
25 Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch
27 Sugar maple
30 Red spruce - yellow birch
31 Red spruce - sugar maple - beech
32 Red spruce
33 Red spruce - balsam fir
35 Paper birch - red spruce - balsam fir
37 Northern white cedar
39 Black ash - American elm - red maple
55 Northern red oak
60 Beech - sugar maple
107 White spruce
108 Red maple
201 White spruce
202 White spruce - paper birch
203 Balsam poplar
204 Black spruce
206 Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir
210 Interior Douglas-fir
213 Grand fir
222 Black cottonwood - willow
224 Western hemlock
228 Western redcedar
251 White spruce - aspen
252 Paper birch
253 Black spruce - white spruce
254 Black spruce - paper birch
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
In boreal spruce ecosystems, paper birch forms nearly pure, pioneer
communities on disturbed sites. It is rare in late successional or
climax forests and generally restricted to openings. It is a principal
component of boreal mixedwoods in Canada because its pioneering habit is
favored by the relatively frequent 50- to 125-year fire return interval
. Codominants in mixedwoods include trembling aspen (Populus
tremuloides), black spruce (Picea mariana), white spruce (P. glauca),
jack pine (Pinus banksiana), and balsam fir (Abies balsamifera). In the
Northern Great Plains, paper birch forms climax woodland communities on
moist, north- or east-facing slopes [23,28].
Published classifications listing paper birch as a dominant in community
types (cts), habitat types (hts), plant associations (pas), or ecosystem
associations (eas) are presented below:
Area Classification Authority
interior AK postfire cts Foote 1983
AK general veg. cts Viereck & Dyrness 1980
AK: Kenai Peninsula forest veg. cts Reynolds 1990
MN: Boundary Waters general veg. cts Ohmann & Ream 1971
e MT, ne WY, w ND, forest & woodland hts Hansen & others 1984
w SD: Missouri Plateau
sw ND woodland hts Girard & others 1989
c NF forest veg. cts Damman 1964
PQ: Gaspe Peninsula forest veg. cts Zolaseski 1988
St. Lawrence Valley general veg. pas Dansereau 1959
BC: Prince Rupert Forest general veg. eas Haeussler & others 1984
Region, Interior Cedar-
w-c Alberta forest eas Corns & Annas 1986
SPECIES: Betula papyrifera
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE :
Paper birch wood is used commercially for veneer, plywood, and pulpwood.
It is easily worked and takes finishes and stains readily. Furniture,
cabinets, and numerous specialty items are made from paper birch lumber.
Tree chips are used for pulp and paper manufacture, reconstituted uses,
and fuel. It is commonly used as fireplace and wood stove fuel [57,66].
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
Paper birch is an important moose browse throughout most of its range.
Its nutritional quality is poor in the winter, but it is important to
wintering moose because of its sheer abundance in young stands .
Peek  listed paper birch as one of the five most important browse
species eaten by moose in the East. In some areas, paper birch leaves
are important in moose summer diets . Although considered a
"secondary-choice food", paper birch is an important dietary component
of white-tailed deer . In Minnesota, white-tailed deer eat
considerable amounts of paper birch leaves in the fall .
Snowshoe hares browse paper birch seedlings and saplings and porcupines
feed on the inner bark of trees . In Newfoundland, paper birch was
a preferred hare browse . Paper birch is also eaten by beaver .
Numerous birds and small mammals eat paper birch buds, catkins and
seeds. Redpolls, siskins, and chickadees obtain a considerable portion
of their annual diet from birch seeds [51,57]. Voles and shrews also
eat the seeds . Ruffed grouse eat paper birch catkins and buds
Paper birch is a favorite feeding tree of yellow-bellied sapsuckers,
which peck holes in the bark to feed on the sap . Hummingbirds and
red squirrels also feed at sapwells in paper birch created by sapsuckers
Paper birch is a palatable moose browse. In Alaska moose prefer it over
aspen, balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), and alder (Alnus spp.) but
prefer it less than willow (Salix spp.), which is the most palatable
moose browse . Shaw  reported that white-tailed deer in the
Northeast exhibit a clear preference for birches. Beaver generally
prefer aspen, while willow and paper birch are second choice foods .
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
Paper birch is a poor-quality winter moose browse. At this time of
year, twigs provide adequate amounts of protein (about 7 to 8.5%
[14,48]) but are not easily digested because of high levels of lignin
[36,48]. Moose may die in the winter if restricted entirely to a diet
of paper birch .
Paper birch leaves sampled in July contained 16.9 percent protein .
COVER VALUE :
Young paper birch stands provide prime deer and moose cover .
Numerous cavity-nesting birds nest in paper birch, including
woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, and swallows [44,56].
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
Paper birch is useful for long-term revegetation and soil stabilization
of severely disturbed sites. It is used to reclaim coal, lignite, rock
phosphate, slate, gold, oil-shale, bauxite, and other mine spoils
[52,70]. Best results are obtained by planting 2-year-old or older
bare-root or containerized stock . It is occasionally transplanted
as wildlings. Methods for collecting, extracting, cleaning, storing,
and sowing paper birch seed to produce nursery grown seedlings are
available [11,26,70]. Paper birch may also be propagated by grafting,
air layering, rooting of cuttings, or tissue-culture techniques .
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
Paper birch's graceful form and attractive bark make it a popular
landscape plant . The sap is made into syrup, wine, beer, and
medicinal tonics. Currently only a few small sugaring operations in
Alaska utilize paper birch .
Native Americans made paper birch bark into baskets, storage containers,
mats, baby carriers, moose and bird calls, torches, household utensils,
and canoes . The strong and flexible wood was made into spears,
bows, arrows, snowshoes, sleds, and other items .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Silviculture: Paper birch is shade-intolerant and can regenerate under
even-aged silviculture. Clearcutting is the most common silvicultural
system used for paper birch, but shelterwood, strip cuts, and small
patch cuts are used to provide partial shade where summer precipitation
is limiting . For good seedling establishment at least 50 percent
of the cut area should be scarified .
Wildlife damage: Severe deer or moose browsing in clearcuts can prevent
or delay paper birch regeneration [6,33]. Following timber harvest in
Newfoundland, paper birch regeneration averaged 13 inches (33 cm) tall
where moose densities were high but averaged nearly 50 inches (127 cm)
elsewhere . Snowshoe hare and other small mammals often clip or gnaw
the bark of planted seedlings .
Chemical control: Paper birch is susceptible to 2,4-D, 2,4,5,-T,
dichlorprop, or glyphosate applied as a foliar spray [10,24].
Glyphosate, hexazinone, or triclopyr applied by hypohatchet also kill
paper birch .
Leaf litter/conifer germination: Paper birch leaf litter inhibits jack
pine, red pine (Pinus resinosa), and eastern white pine (P. strobus)
seed germination .
Insects: The bronze birch borer is the most serious insect pest of
paper birch. It attacks and can kill injured, overmature, or decadent
trees . There are numerous defoliators of paper birch, but they
seldom cause mortality of healthy trees .
Diseases: Bacteria or decay fungi enter paper birch boles through
wounds and branch stubs, and roots which come in contact with the roots
of other trees infected with root-rotting fungi [57,60]. Trees in
Alaska are very susceptible to decay, but elsewhere tend to contain
little defect . Most diseases can be identified by observing
external signs .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Betula papyrifera
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Paper birch is a medium-sized, single- or multiple-stemmed, deciduous
tree. In forests it typically has a slender trunk with a narrow crown,
but in openings it has a wider crown spreading out from near the base
. Multiple-stemmed trees are relatively common as a result of
browsing by moose and snowshoe hares . Throughout much of its range,
mature trees are 70 to 80 feet (21-24 m) tall and 10 to 12 inches (25-30
cm) in trunk diameter, but sometimes grow up to 30 inches (75 cm) in
diameter [31,57]. In Alaska, paper birch trees are commonly 20 to 60
feet (6-18 m) high and 4 to 12 inches (10-30 cm) in trunk diameter .
Paper birch is short-lived. Height growth ceases at about 60 to 70
years of age; few trees live more than 140 years . Paper birch is
shallow-rooted with few roots found deeper than 24 inches (60 cm) below
the soil surface . The bark is reddish-brown on saplings. On
mature trees bark is thin, white, and smooth, often separating into
papery strips, and is easily peeled off in sheets [24,66].
Male and female flowers occur in separate, pendulous catkins on the same
tree . Fruits are winged-nutlets 0.06 inch (1.5 mm) long by 0.03
inch (0.8 mm) wide .
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Seed production: Paper birch is a prolific seed producer. Seed
production begins at about age 15, with optimum production at 40 to 70
years of age . Trees produce good seed crops about every other
year. Seed production over a 3-year period in Maine ranged from 2.4 to
9.8 million seeds/acre (5.9-24.2/ha) in a paper birch stand with 149
seed trees per acre (368/ha) . In undisturbed paper birch stands in
Alaska, seed production varied between 2.2 and 294 million seeds/acre
(5.4-728 million/ha) .
Dispersal: The small, double-winged seeds are dispersed primarily by
wind. Most seeds fall 100 to 200 feet (30-61 m) from the parent tree
. Seedfall at a clearcut edge was 60 percent of that within the
uncut stand, and at 328 feet (100 m) into the cut seedfall was 10
percent of that within the stand . Seed may travel great distances
when blown across crusted snow . Nearly all the seed (about 90 to
95 percent) is shed from September through November [51,57].
Seed quality and dormancy: Discolored and empty seeds make up 14 to 47
percent of a crop . Seed viability is highest during heavy seed
crop years and lowest during light seed crop years. In Maine,
germination was 77 percent during a heavy seed year, but only 13 and 24
percent during 2 normal years . Seeds dispersed early have lower
germination rates than those dispersed later . A small percentage
of the seeds can remain viable on the forest floor for several years
Germination and seedling establishment: Germination normally takes
place in the spring following dispersal. Germination is generally best
on disturbed mineral or mixed mineral-organic soil seedbeds [24,57].
The small seeds are sensitive to soil moisture and temperature. Thus
shade usually favors germination and initial establishment by preventing
seedbeds from drying out and reaching excessively high temperatures
. South or southwest aspects, excessively drained soils,
insufficient rainfall, competing vegetation, and unshaded and
undisturbed seedbeds deter establishment . Seedlings will not grow
on soils with a pH less than 5.0 . Although germination and early
survival are often best on mineral soils, seedling growth is best on
humus seedbeds in moderate or full sunlight . First year seedlings
are about 2 to 5 inches (5-12 cm) tall .
Vegetative reproduction: Paper birch sprouts following cutting or fire.
Sprouts typically arise from the stump base or root collar .
Prolific sprouting is common in young trees, with some individuals
producing up to 100 sprouts . Sprout growth is rapid, sometimes up
to 24 inches (60 cm) in the first growing season . Sprouting vigor
decreases with age. Forty to fifty percent of 100- to 125-year-old
trees produced stump sprouts within 1 year after cutting, while 80 to 90
percent of 40- to 50-year-old trees produced sprouts .
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Paper birch grows in climates ranging from boreal to humid and tolerates
wide variations in the amount and pattern of precipitation . It
grows at the northern limit of tree growth in arctic Canada and Alaska,
in boreal spruce woodlands and forests, in montane and subalpine forests
of the West, in wooded draws of the northern Great Plains, and in
coniferous, deciduous, and, mixed forests of the Northeast and Lake
States . It is shade-intolerant, and abundant on burned-over and
cut-over lands where it often forms pure stands . It is restricted
to openings in older forests.
Paper birch is most abundant on rolling upland terrain and alluvial
sites but grows on almost any soil and topographic situation, including
rugged mountain slopes, open slopes, rock slides, muskegs, and borders
of bogs and swamps [21,24,57]. In interior Alaska, paper birch tends to
dominate cool, moist, north and east aspects, while aspen dominates
warmer and drier, south and west aspects . In the mountains of New
England and New York, paper birch is one of the few hardwoods found near
timberline . In North Dakota, it is mostly restricted to moist
draws on north-facing slopes .
Soils: Paper birch grows best on deep, well-drained to moderately
well-drained, sandy or silty Spodosols, Inceptisols, and Entisols common
on glacial deposits [24,57]. It grows on a wide range of soil textures
from gravels to silts, and grows on organic bog and peat soils .
Associated trees: In addition to those species listed under Habitat
Types and Plant Communities, common associates include bigtooth aspen
(Populus grandidentata), pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), yellow birch,
gray birch (Betula populifolia), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red maple
(A. rubrum), and white ash (Fraxinus americana) in the southern and
eastern part of its range, and red spruce (Picea rubens) and jack pine
in boreal regions .
Understory: Conifer seedlings and saplings are typical under mature
paper birch stands. Associated shrubs include American green alder
(Alnus crispa), beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta), raspberries and
blackberries (Rubus spp.), common bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi),
blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), Bebb willow (Salix bebbiana), Scouler
willow (S. scouleriana), highbush cranberry (Viburnum edule),
Labrador-tea (Ledum groenlandicum), elder (Sambucus spp.), gooseberry
(Ribes spp.), and dwarf bush-honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera)
[20,57,66]. In Alaska, Canada reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis) is
prominent in paper birch stands, but other grasslike plants, sedges
(Carex spp.), and lichens are principally absent . In Labrador,
lush herbs create a nearly continuous ground layer under paper birch
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Paper birch is a short-lived, shade-intolerant, pioneer species. It
rapidly colonizes open disturbed sites created by wildfire, windthrow,
or avalanche but lasts only one generation before it is replaced by
shade-tolerant conifers or northern hardwoods. Paper birch seeds-in
aggressively after wildfire, often forming large, essentially pure
stands [19,21,39]. Depending on the recovery of other species following
fire, paper birch may also occur in mixed postfire stands with spruces,
aspen, and other hardwoods [15,27,39].
Seral paper birch stands resulting from wildfire in Alaska commonly have
3,000 to 6,000 trees per acre (7,470-14,820/ha) 20 years after
establishment . By 60 to 90 years, stands have thinned to 500 to
800 trees per acre (1,235-1,976/ha) [19,39]. Seedbeds under these paper
birch stand are unfavorable for germination of birch seed, but spruce
seedlings are common. By 120 to 150 years after fire, black or white
spruce dominate [39,66].
In southeastern Labrador, paper birch seedling establishment begins
promptly after fire and is restricted to the first 15 postfire years.
At 40 to 50 years after fire conifer seedlings appear in the paper birch
understory. At 75 to 100 years, paper birch stands begin to deteriorate
and are eventually replaced by conifers unless another fire initiates
paper birch establishment .
In boreal mixed woods, paper birch begin dying by 75 years after fire.
At this time jack pine, black spruce, and white spruce begin to dominate
or codominate. By 125 years most paper birch are dead .
In contrast to other boreal regions, paper birch persists in forests for
more than 200 years in eastern Quebec. This is probably due to spruce
budworm outbreaks which cause white spruce to decline after about 200
In the East, paper birch is commonly replaced by northern hardwoods on
well-drained mineral soils, and by spruces and balsam fir on shallow or
poorly drained soils . In Minnesota, paper birch is often replaced
by communities dominated by shrubs, particularly beaked hazel .
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Paper birch male catkins are partially formed in the fall, remain
dormant in the winter, and expand to a length of about 4 inches (10 cm)
before flowering in the spring . Female catkins appear in the
spring before the leaves are fully expanded. In the southern portion of
its range flowering begins in April . In Alaska flowering occurs in
May and June . Seed dispersal may begin as early as August, but
most seed is dispersed from September throughout November .
Paper birch phenological events proceed as follows in northeastern
Phenological event Time
bud burst April
leafing out late April - early May
flowering begins April
pollen shed late April - May
seedfall begins August
leaf color change September
leaf fall late September - October
SPECIES: Betula papyrifera
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
Adaptation to fire: Paper birch is well adapted to fire, recovering
quickly by means of seedling establishment and vegetative regeneration
[1,39,67]. Seedling establishment is the most significant method of
postfire recovery. Paper birch is a prolific producer of lightweight
seeds that are easily dispersed by wind and readily germinate on
fire-prepared seedbeds. Young trees sprout from the root collar
following top-kill, but sprouting ability decreases after about 40 to 60
years of age .
Fire regime: Throughout most of Alaska and Canada, paper birch is found
in boreal spruce and mixedwood forest types that burn at 50 to 150 year
Fire behavior: As a forest type, paper birch stands are one of the least
flammable. The canopy often has a high moisture content and the
understory is lush . Crown fires in coniferous stands often stop at
the boundary of large paper birch stands or become slow-moving ground
fires [21,64]. As a result of this fire behavior, some large paper
birch trees often survive fire in pure stands, and thus become seed
trees for postfire establishment . During dry periods, paper birch
stands will burn readily.
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex
off-site colonizer; seed carried by wind; postfire years 1 and 2
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Prescribed fire can be used to prepare cut-over sites for paper birch
seed regeneration. In Maine, prescribed burning following winter
logging favored paper birch establishment more than other treatments
did. Burning or disking following logging exposed mineral soils on more
than 70 percent of the logged area, while logging alone during the
summer or winter, resulted in only 5 percent mineral soil exposure.
Fourteen seed trees per acre (35/ha) were left on each treatment site.
Paper birch seedling establishment was as follows :
Treatment Posttreatment year 1 Posttreatment year 10
#/acre #/ha #/acre #/ha
winter logging/disked 245,400 605,200 3,300 8,200
winter logging/burned 50,100 123,700 4,800 11,900
summer logging only 65,700 162,300 1,700 4,200
winter logging only 33,700 83,200 1,900 4,700
Prescribed fire can be used to enhance deer and moose winter habitat by
killing late successional conifers and promoting early successional
browse species such as paper birch . It generally takes 3 to 5
years after fire for paper birch sprout and seedling growth to provide
adequate browse for deer and moose . Peak browse production is
generally between 10 and 16 years after fire .
SPECIES: Betula papyrifera
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Fire generally kills or top-kills most paper birch trees; the thin,
flammable bark makes the bole highly susceptible to girdling even by
light surface fires [17,21,31]. Although the bark of older trees is
thicker, it is also more flammable once it begins to exfoliate .
Paper birch seeds on the ground are destroyed by fire. Summer fires do
not necessarily consume the catkins, but immature seeds will not ripen
on killed or top-killed trees .
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
On the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota, prescribed burning in
mid-May in aspen slash top-killed all 4- to 15-inch-diameter (10-38 cm)
paper birch trees. These sprouted within a few weeks of the fire, but
sprout mortality over the next few years resulted in 11 percent of the
original trees dead by postfire year 5 .
Low-intensity prescribed surface fires (mean flame length > 1 foot [0.3
m], mean rate of spread of 10.8 feet [3.3 m] per minute) in a
30-year-old mixed hardwood stand in central Wisconsin did not kill or
top-kill any paper birch trees greater than 4 inches (10 cm) in trunk
diameter. Most of the saplings less than 4 inches in trunk diameter,
however, were top-killed .
On the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, 22 percent of paper birch trees were
unaffected, while 78 percent had dead or partially dead aerial crowns 2
years after a light surface fire . Forty-two percent of top-killed
trees produced sprouts.
Prescribed burning in a northern Wisconsin bracken fern (Pteridium
aquilinum)-grassland killed 31 percent of paper birch trees present.
The rest were top-killed but later sprouted. Basal area was reduced by
90 percent .
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
Paper birch rapidly revegetates burned areas. Sprouts, and seedlings if
seed trees are nearby, appear within the first postfire year.
Sprout production: Young paper birch trees up to about 50 years old
sprout prolifically and vigorously after fire. Sprouts appear a few
weeks to 2 months after spring or summer fires but not until the
following spring after late fall fires [35,50,61]. They grow rapidly
and are often 20 to 40 inches (50-100 cm) tall after one growing season
[1,35]. In Minnesota, 5-year-old postfire paper birch sprouts averaged
10 feet (3 m) in height . Following prescribed spring fires at
5-year intervals in Idaho, paper birch averaged 31 to 58 basal sprouts
per plant after each fire . Sprout mortality is high in the first 5
postfire years, leaving a few to several sprouts per clump .
Seedling establishment: Mineral soils exposed by fire provide excellent
paper birch seedbeds, but charred or partially removed organic layers
prevent establishment. In Alaska, germination and subsequent seedling
survival of artificially sown paper birch seed was abundant, practically
nil, and nil on severely, moderately, and lightly burned test plots,
Undamaged trees within a burn or trees in nearby unburned stands are
necessary for postfire seedling establishment. Where there are abundant
seed trees, paper birch can easily establish 10's of thousands of
seedlings per acre after fire [19,39,69]. In northern Saskatchewan,
undamaged paper birch trees released 1 and 0.4 million seeds per acre
(2.48 & 1 million/ha) in the first and second fall, respectively,
following an April wildfire .
Because seed dispersal occurs in the fall, seedling establishment does
not begin until the second postfire year . Seedling establishment
is generally greatest from postfire years 2 to 5 [3,46]. In Labrador,
paper birch established by seed dated to within 15 years of fire, with
subsequent seedling establishment lacking .
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
In white spruce forest types in interior Alaska, paper birch establishes
thousands of seedlings and sprouts shortly after fire. Sampling
fire-origin paper birch stands in Alaska, Lutz  observed an average
of 8,000 seedlings and saplings per acre (19,760/ha) 1 year after fire.
Four years after fire, Foote  observed an average of 12,000 stems per
acre (30,000/ha) of both seed and sprout origin that were 3 to 6 feet
(1-2 m) tall. Between 26 and 45 years after the fire, these thinned to
a few thousand per acre.
Three years after a prescribed light surface fire in south-central
Alaska, on a site stocked primarily with white spruce and paper birch,
there were about 8,000 and 1,000 paper birch seedlings and sprouts,
respectively, per acre (19,760 and 2,470/ha) . Seedlings averaged 6
inches (15 cm) and sprouts 14 inches (35 cm) in height.
For information on prescribed fire and postfire responses of many plant
species, including paper birch, see Hamilton's Research Papers
(Hamilton 2006a, Hamilton 2006b) and these Research Project Summaries:
SPECIES: Betula papyrifera
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