Description & Overview

Whitespire Birch is an attractive tree with a narrow to pyramidal profile and white, non-exfoliating bark marked with black triangles. Finely textured branching is adorned with brown catkins in early spring, a sure sign of better weather to come. Teardrop-shaped, finely toothed green leaves don branches in early to mid-spring through summer. The foliage drops earlier in the fall after turning a clear yellow.

Whitespire Birch is a cultivated variety of Betula populifolia (Gray Birch), which is native to Southeastern Canada to Virginia, with a scattering extending westward to Illinois.

Core Characteristics

Category: Tree

Wisconsin Native: No - Variety of North American Native

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 30-40 feet

Mature Spread: 20-25 feet

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Narrow, pyramidal

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Average-moist, well-drained

Flower: Dark green, 2-3 ½" long, triangular

Bloom Period: March–April, Early Spring

Foliage: Dark green, 2-3 ½" long, triangular

Fall Color: Yellow

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Catkins containing nutlet

Suggested Uses

Whitespire Birch is a good, cost-effective option for residential landscapes with white bark adding ornamental value. It has a graceful habit and showy bark for city and county parks. Municipalities have planted Whitespire Birch in wide center medians as it’s tolerant of pollution.

Tolerant of many soil types and conditions, Whitespire Birch does best in cooler sites, such as on a northern slope, or the northeast side of your house. If planted in an area with extremely high soil pH levels, leaves may yellow (chlorosis).

Hot tip: If you want to get fancy, Whitespire Birch looks lovely when a spotlight or two are focused on it. If there is exterior lighting available, point it at the trunk for something a little extra special!

Whitespire Birch is a relatively short-lived plant. This cultivar is a decent option when other birches (River Birch, Paper Birch, etc.) aren’t available.

Whitespire Birch is an attractive tree with a narrow to pyramidal profile and white, non-exfoliating bark marked with black triangles. Finely textured…

Salable #10 Multi-Stem Whitespire Birch | Pictures taken late September.

Wildlife Value

Many creatures subsist on Gray Birch. It is the host plant to the Morning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), Compton Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis l-album), Chocolate Birch Prominent (Peridea ferruginea), Birch Dagger Moth (Acronicta betulae), Arched Hooktip Moth (Drepana arcuata), Morrison’s Pero Moth (Pero morrisonaria), and Hemina Pinion (Lithophane hemina). The Birch Catkin Bug (Kleidocerys resedae), Dusky Birch Sawfly (Croesus latitarsus), and Bronze Birch Borer (Agrilus anxius) feed on the leaves, wood, seeds, or sap.

Redpolls, Chickadees, and Pine Siskins eat the seeds, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are known to drill holes to feed on the sap.

Deer may browse the foliage in winter and beavers may feed on the bark and wood of this tree.

Maintenance Tips

Whitespire Birch will self-seed, which may or may not be a desirable trait. A lawnmower would take care of this in unwanted areas.

Don’t prune in winter or early spring as this will cause the tree to bleed sap from the wounds.

Plants appreciate some afternoon shade.

Whitespire Birch is an attractive tree with a narrow to pyramidal profile and white, non-exfoliating bark marked with black triangles. Finely textured…
Whitespire Birch is an attractive tree with a narrow to pyramidal profile and white, non-exfoliating bark marked with black triangles. Finely textured…

Pests/Problems

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

Whitespire Birch shows decent resistance to the Bronze Birch Borer, a pest that can severely damage or kill birch trees. This borer prefers stressed trees caused by drought, flooding, or old age. The best prevention is to keep your tree happy and healthy so that it can stop the borers from attacking. That means siting and planting it correctly, properly watering it, and preventing any damage to roots from mowing.

Although nothing will stop a hungry deer, they do tend to leave this plant alone.

While tolerant of many soil types and conditions, it’s best to plant Whitespire in cooler sites, such as on a northern slope, or the northeast side of your house to reduce plant stress. This cultivar is not for areas with extremely high soil pH levels as this may cause the leaves to yellow (chlorosis).

Leaf Lore

The genus name Betula is Latin for “birch.” The specific epithet populifolia comes from the Latin ‘populus’, the poplar genus, and ‘folia’ meaning “leaves like a poplar.”

Whitespire Birch was introduced to the nursery trade in 1983 by Dr. Hasselkus. The original Whitespire Birch is in Longenecker Horticultural Gardens at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Whitespire Birch was sold under the name Betula platyphylla ‘Whitespire’ as seedlings from the original Whitespire tree. This means these plants are not true to the original Whitespire tree, including resistance to pests such as the Bronze Birch Borer. To ensure the accuracy of the name, ask your source if they know how the plants were propagated: seed or vegetatively.

The bark is astringent and decoction was used to treat swellings and bleeding piles. The inner bark can be cooked or dried and ground into a meal which was once used as a thickener for soups, stews, etc., or added to flour when baking.

Companion Plants

Whitespire Birch provides a nice dappled shade, so choose companion plants that will enjoy moist soil such as:

Canada Wild Ginger, Spikenard, Willowleaf Amsonia, American Filbert, American Elderberry, and Bog Birch can all thrive in and around the understory of Whitespire Birch. Wild White Indigo, Joe-Pye Weed, Dense Blazing Star, and many others, can thrive in the sunnier areas just outside the range of the canopy.

Birches are often planted for their beautiful ornamental bark. Other plants with ornamental bark include:

Whitespire Birch is an attractive tree with a narrow to pyramidal profile and white, non-exfoliating bark marked with black triangles. Finely textured…
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Written by Beth DeLain