Birch trees are deciduous slender trees native to North America. They are admired for their white exfoliating bark and have numerous uses including making canoes and interior trim thanks to their waterproof properties.
Birch (Betula spp.) can be found in cooler areas of North America. There are 50 known species of Birch globally, some of which inhabit USDA growing zones 3-9.
All birches prefer moist, well-drained soil and cooler temperatures, and don’t do well with water scarcity or high temperatures, making them unsuited to some of the hotter and drier areas of the state.
Both birch sap and leaves are edible to humans and non-human animals, and provide crucial food for beavers, many kinds of birds, moose, and deer.
5 Types of Birch That Can Be Grown In Colorado
It features doubly toothed, triangular, diamond, or egg-shaped leaves with a blunt base and no glands on the petiole. The bark on older trees peels off into long papery sheets that can be either creamy white or light brown.
The Cutleaf Birch is a medium-sized tree with a medium growth rate, and looks good as a stand-alone specimen or planted as a group. Two different catkins may appear on the same tree; the males are long, slender and drooping, appearing at the end of the stem, whilst the females are fat and erect.
Cutleaf Birch will grow in most moist soils in full sun or part-shade.
Other Common Names: European White Birch, European Silver Birch
Growing Zones: 2-7
Average Size at Maturity: 40-80 ft tall and 20-30 ft wide
Flowering Season: Spring
2. River Birch (Betulanigra)
The River Birch develops a rounded outline at maturity, with a trunk that’s usually divided into several arching branches. The reddish/light brown bark exfoliates, exposing the gray-brown to cinnamon/reddish-brown inner bark. The leaves are alternate, sharp-pointed, and doubly serrated, medium to dark green above, and smooth below.
The River Birch grows naturally in swampy areas and floodplains. It’s best adapted to moist acid soil but will also survive dry soil.
Other Common Names: Black Birch, Red Birch, Swamp Birch, Water Birch
Growing Zones: 4-9
Average Size at Maturity: 60-80 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide
Flowering Season: April-May
3. Rocky Mountain Birch (Betula occidentalis)
The Rocky Mountain Birch is a tree that grows in clumps or groups along rivers, springs or streams, or other riparian zones at elevations of 8,000 ft above sea level. In cultivation, it can be trained as a single or multi-stemmed tree.
As a single-trunked tree, it’ll develop a pyramidal habit in youth, maturing to a more rounded shape. Multi-trunked trees tend to have a more irregular crown.
The bark of the Rocky Mountain Birch is shiny, non-peeling, and reddish-brown, often with white horizontal streaks. The deciduous leaves are ovate, and broad with rounded bases and sharp pointed tips, and two rows of sharp-pointed marginal teeth. They are shades of dark green/yellow above but paler underneath.
Male and female catkins bloom on the same plant during the spring. The male catkins are brown and drooping and are larger than the more upright female catkins. The Rocky Mountain birch will grow best in consistently moist/wet soil.
Other Common Names: Water Birch, Western Birch, Red Birch, River Birch, Black Birch
Growing Zones: 4-6
Average Size at Maturity: 40-70 ft tall and 40-70 ft wide
Flowering Season: Spring
The Paper Birch is easily distinguishable from its white bark that peels off in large rolls with a slight pink inside. It’s the most widely distributed native birch and is a short lived, fast-growing tree.
Their unique appearance makes them stand out in the landscape. The simple leaves are 2-4” long ovate-to-oval, and are coarsely to doubly serrated.
The resinous buds are ovoid, whilst the pendulous fruit is cylindrical. The bark is red-brown at first, before separating into papery strips. The Paper Birch grows best in sandy loams in cool and moist areas.
Other Common Names: Paperbark Birch
Growing Zones: 2-7
Average Size at Maturity: 50-70 ft tall and 20-35 ft wide
Flowering Season: Mid-April – Beginning of June
The Yellow Birch is known for its characteristic golden/yellow peeling bark on mature specimens. It’s the tallest of all the North American Birches. The leaves are elliptical and about 2 ½ inches wide, simple, and alternate.
They have a pointed tip and finely toothed edges and are bronze/green when young, with long hairs on the underside, turning bright yellow in the fall.
The Yellow Birch looks similar to the Paper Birch, and it’s easy to confuse the two species. The easiest way to distinguish the two is by the leaves; those of the Yellow Birch are longer and narrower. The Yellow Birch is an important tree for wildlife as it provides food, shelter and breeding site for a number of birds.
The Yellow Birch also has a wider soil and moisture tolerance than the Paper Birch. It can grow in well-drained and poorly drained sites.
Other Common Names: Golden Birch, Swamp Birch
Growing Zones: 3-7
Average Size at Maturity: 60-75 ft tall and 35-50 ft wide
Flowering Season: April – May
Birch Trees are gorgeous trees that stand out in the landscape due their exfoliating bark and tall slender profiles. They grow in USDA zones 3-9, which incorporates all of the state of CO (zones 3-7).
They prefer moist and cool conditions and get stressed with temperatures over 75 Fahrenheit, so won’t be suited to some of areas of the state the experience hot and dry summers.
However, those with suitable conditions can reap the benefits of these much admired trees in their own yard or garden.
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Thomas worked for a number of years as the head of plant propagation for a horticultural contractor taking care of many different species of ornamental trees & shrubs. He learned how to propagate certain endangered endemic species and has a love of permaculture, sustainability and conscious living. When Thomas isn’t hiking in nature he can be found playing music, reading a book, or eating fruit under a tree.