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Growing the Sweet Birch - Betula lenta


Overview of the Sweet Birch:

The sweet birch is one of the most popular birch species. It offers fall colors, shade and resistance to the bronze birch borer.

This is one source of wintergreen oil and one reason why it is called sweet birch. The sap is also sweet and can be used for drinks like birch beer.

Latin Name:

The name assigned to this tree is Betula lenta. It is a member of the Betulaceae family. Other genera include the alders (Alnus), hornbeams (Carpinus), hazelnuts (Corylus), hop-hornbeams (Ostrya) and hazel-hornbeams (Ostryopsis).

Common Names:

In addition to sweet birch, you may see it labeled as cherry birch, black birch, Virginia roundleaf birch, mahogany birch and spice birch.

Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones:

This tree should be planted in Zones 3-8. It is native to eastern North America.

Size & Shape of the Sweet Birch:

Once your tree is mature, it will be 40-70' tall and 35-35' wide. In its early years it will be pyramidal in shade, becoming irregular or rounded as the tree matures.


Choose a site that receives full sun to part shade. Full sun is best.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit of the Sweet Birch:

The shiny green leaves are elliptical or ovate and are 2-6" long. In the fall they change to a golden color.

This species is monoecious and you will see both male and female catkins appear in the middle of spring.

After the female catkins are pollinated, they form cone-like clusters of little samaras that are spread by the wind.

Design Tips For the Sweet Birch:

This species is resistant to the bronze birch borer (Agrilus anxius) and can be a good alternative to other birch species that are more susceptible.

You can plant this in clay soil as long as there is proper drainage.

The common name of black birch refers to the fact that it bears bark that looks black. The name cherry birch is because the bark resembles that of the wild cherry(Prunus serotina).

Growing Tips For the Sweet Birch:

Like other birches, the sweet birch likes moist soil that drains well. It will be able to grow if your soil is dry, though, as long as it is not in a hot area.


Pruning should be done in mid to late summer as birch trees in general have a tendency to bleed sap.

Pests & Diseases of the Sweet Birch:

Possible pests include:

  • Ambrosia beetle (Xyloterinus politus)
  • Birch skeletonizer (Bucculatrix canadensisella)
  • Birch tubemaker (Acrobasis betulella)
  • Dusky birch sawfly (Croesus latitarsus)
  • Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar)
  • Oriental moth (Cnidocampa flavescens)
  • Yellow cap fungus (Pholiota limonella)

Potential diseases include:

  • Nectria canker (Nectria galligena)
  • White trunk rot (Phellinus igniarius)

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