The distinctive bark, graceful shape and delicate leaves of birch trees are favoured among naturalists and homeowners. Except for the desert, there is probably a species of birch nearby where you live on the North American continent. They all prefer cool, moist soils with full sunshine on their leaves. Having shallow roots, the trees do not tolerate hot soil or drought.
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Birch trees, species within the Betulaceae family, all have smooth, peeling bark of varying colours. The trees range in size from shrubs, including the swamp birch and water birch, to medium-sized trees. In the spring, they produce catkins, scaly spikes that contain many tiny flowers.
Paper birch is also known as grey birch, European white birch and canoe birch. Its native habitat is the northern tier of North America, extending from Alaska, across Canada, to Newfoundland. The southern extent is from eastern Oregon and Montana on the west, to Iowa and Pennsylvania on the east. It is useful in plantings to prevent stream erosion, as it flourishes along stream banks.
Yellow birch is found most notably in the northern Appalachian Mountains and the hardwood forests of the Great Lakes region. Northward, its habitat extends as far as southern Manitoba and eastward to Nova Scotia. Preferring moist, but well-drained soils, it grows well in mountain ravines, along streams and in swampy woods.
Rocky Mountain birch, red birch and black birch are alternate names for the water birch. It is a small bush or shrub, found growing along the banks of streams or lakes in coniferous forests. Unlike other birch species, it is tolerant of shade and wet soils, making it useful in forested riparian buffers. Its botanical name means "western birch," and, indeed, its native habitat extends along western North America, from southern Alaska to California and New Mexico.
The river birch is the most widely distributed birch in the United States and the one best suited to hotter climates. Its can be distinguished from paper birch by the cinnamon colour of its peeling bark. Found along large rivers of the eastern coastal plain, its native habitat extends from Massachusetts to Florida and westward to Minnesota and eastern Texas.
Growing in the shrubby edges of swamps and bogs, this shrub-sized birch lives up to its name. Its range is the northeastern section of the United States and Canada, from as far southwest as Indiana to as far northeast as Newfoundland. This species seeks locations that have seepage of calcium carbonate from limestone.
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