Betula lenta, Sweet or Black or Cherry Birch

Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid-Atlantic

One of the birch trees suitable for planting in Northern Virginia, Betula lenta is more tolerant of heat and drought than some northern birch species. However, it can still become stressed in extreme summer temperatures and humidity and stressed birches are more prone to diseases and to the bronze birch borer. Although its bark is not as showy as other birches, its fall foliage displays the best golden-yellow color.

Sweet Birch, also known as Black or Cherry Birch, finds a natural home on the cool north and east slopes of rich mountain woods.  Its reliable golden-yellow fall color is the best of the commonly cultivated birches. Historically its fragrant foliage and twigs were a source of wintergreen flavoring for medicine and candy.

Print Version: Betula lenta, Sweet or Black or Cherry Birch

Betula lenta, Sweet Birch Tree Height: 40–75 feet Spread: 35–50 feetBloom Color: Yellow greenCharacteristicsMedium-sized deciduous tree with rounded crown of spreading branchesAlternate, simple, sharply-serrated, shiny green leavesMale flowers: 2–3 inch long catkins, in groups of 4 Female flowers: 1⁄2–1 inch long, upright catkins that become cone-like fruits holding two winged nutlets Excellent fall color of golden yellow Young reddish-brown bark with large horizontal lenticels ages from gray to black with scaly plates Attributes Tolerates dry sites (but prefers moist ones), rocky soils, heavy soils; intolerant of shade; can be stressed by excessive heat and humidity Resistant to bronze birch borer; susceptible to nectria canker; deer rarely damageLike sugar maples, trees can be tapped for the sap, which is fermented into birch beerAttracts a variety of birds and small mammals High wildlife value Soil Requirements: Rich, acidic soil Light Requirements: Sun, Partial Shade Water Requirements: Dry, Moist Prune in summer after sap stops flowing Use as a shade tree for large sites *It is not reported in DC. It is common in DE. It is scattered throughout PA. In VA, it is common in the mountains, infrequent in the Piedmont, and rare in the Coastal Plain. It is native in NoVA except in Prince William County. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3–8 Excellent Replacement for Betula papyrifera - Paper Birch

Learn more about other Mid-Atlantic plants: Tried and True Plant Fact Sheets