Casey’s Tree of the Month: River Birch

Casey has returned from his Australian odyssey, just in time to give you August’s Tree of the Month.

It’s been a memorable summer weather-wise, right? June and July had record-breaking heat and droughts and August is the wettest month on record. I recently read new research that claims plant species are moving one mile further south each year, which to me means that it’s even more important to select the correct tree species for planting.

A great tree that is heat/drought tolerant and can withstand wet conditions is the River Birch (Betula nigra). This tree’s cinnamon-colored, exfoliating bark makes it great for year-round interest.

The river birch was a very important species to the Native American tribes of this region. They used the boiled sap as a sweetener, which reportedly has a taste similar to maple syrup. The inner bark was also an important food source during harsh winters, and the aromatic oils from the leaves were used to hide the unpleasant tastes of some medicines.

The ‘Heritage’ cultivar of River Birch was selected in 2002 as the Tree of the Year by the Society of Municipal Arborists. It is also a PHS Gold Medal Plant. Most importantly, my coworker Jen (the park expert) says River Birch is her “all-time favorite” tree.

After reading all this, I bet you’re just dying to have a ‘Heritage’ River Birch on your property. Well, today is your lucky day! PHS is currently offering a selection of containerized trees for an amazing price of $45 apiece. These trees have been selected for their exceptional qualities and hardiness in this region.  Check out the selection here.

Once you select and purchase your tree, you can pick it up at the PHS Fall Garden Festival. If you are unable to attend the Festival, we are also offering a delivery option. Contact me at for more details.

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