Description & Overview

Bog Birch isn’t your typical birch. It’s not even a tree, really. This birch tops out at 10 feet, and that is a little too kind—the average height is more like six feet. Multiple stems shoot out from ground level giving it a more shrubby appearance. Bark on mature stems is brown/grey while new bark is a fresh, deep reddish brown, spotted with lenticels that fade with time but never fully go away. The leaves are serrated and almost round, green in the summer turning yellow and sometimes red in the fall. Both male and female catkins appear in the fall and develop through the winter, opening in spring.

Core Characteristics

Category: Tree

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 4

Mature Height: 6-9 feet

Mature Spread: 8 feet

Growth Rate: Fast

Growth Form: Rounded

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Heavy to moderate moisture

Flower: Green, Brown, Yellow. Male and female on the same plant.

Bloom Period: April to May

Foliage: Green

Fall Color: Yellow to red

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Catkin/male, Samara/female

Suggested Uses

Bog Birch can be found from coast to coast in the northern U.S. as well as in southern Canada. It is found in bogs as well as swamps, fens, and wetlands. It is not found in sphagnum bogs as they prefer calcium-rich soils. But the point is moisture. Bog Birch loves it.

Restoration/Naturalization: Bog Birch has a shallow root system. It is capable of layering, growing roots from the tips of branches that have come in contact with the ground, which then sends up new shoots, spreading and forming a thicket in the process.

Landscape/Rain Garden: This would be a valuable native plant in a moist to wet low-lying area in a yard, or in a rain garden. It would do well in these circumstances while supplying several benefits to wildlife. With fall color to boot!

Bog Birch isn't your typical birch. It's not even a tree, really. This birch tops out at 10 feet, and that is a little too kind—the average height is …
Bog Birch isn't your typical birch. It's not even a tree, really. This birch tops out at 10 feet, and that is a little too kind—the average height is …
Bog Birch isn't your typical birch. It's not even a tree, really. This birch tops out at 10 feet, and that is a little too kind—the average height is …

Wildlife Value

Bog Birch has male and female parts on the same plant. The reproductive parts are pollinated by the wind and so are not dependent upon insects for pollination. The male catkins produce nutlets in the spring. The female flowers produce samaras which are dispersed by wind and water. Despite this, insects still do feed off of Bog Birch. Plant bugs, aphids, Katydid, wood-boring beetles, weevils, leaf beetles, and sawflies feed on the wood and leaves.

White-tailed Deer feed on the twigs and foliage while Greater Prairie Chicken browse on the buds and catkins. The buds and nutlets are eaten by chickadees, finches, and juncos.

Maintenance Tips

Due to its ability to layer, if you do not want multiples then you may need to cut offending stems in late winter/early spring.

A two to three-inch layer of mulch (not touching the trunk) will help to keep the soil moist in the heat of the summer.

Bog Birch isn't your typical birch. It's not even a tree, really. This birch tops out at 10 feet, and that is a little too kind—the average height is …
Bog Birch isn't your typical birch. It's not even a tree, really. This birch tops out at 10 feet, and that is a little too kind—the average height is …

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: No
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: No

Bog Birch has good Bronze Birch Borer resistance.

Leaf Lore

The genus Betula comes from the Latin meaning “birch” named by Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), a Roman naturalist who wrote the encyclopedic work “Natural History.”

The specific epithet pumila means “dwarf” in reference to its diminutive height when compared to the others in its genus.

The common names Bog Birch and Swamp Birch are in reference to their preferred habitat.

The leaves and twigs were historically used as an astringent, antirheumatic, salve, and sedative. The buds and twigs were used in stews. An infusion has also been used as a treatment for dandruff.

Companion Plants

Tamarack, Swamp White Oak, Swamp x Bur Oak Hybrid, Musclewood, Willow, and even Balsam Fir would do well in moist soils alongside Bog Birch. Try Glossy Black Chokeberry, Silky Dogwood, Common Ninebark, Elderberry, Common Snowberry, and the other wet-soil loving tree/shrub, Speckled Alder as they can all grow in the understory in wet soil. Joe-Pye Weed, Cardinal Flower, Ironweed, Turtlehead, Shreve’s Iris, and Bee Balm would all do well in a rain garden.

Bog Birch isn't your typical birch. It's not even a tree, really. This birch tops out at 10 feet, and that is a little too kind—the average height is …
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Written by Julia Feltes