old-field birch, poplar birch

Betula populifolia Marshall

Gray birch colonizes disturbed and harsh sites and is particularly abundant in the lower Hudson Valley where it grows chiefly on dry, gravelly soils of burned-over areas and abandoned farms. Though often confused with the true paper birch, it is far inferior to that species in size and value of the wood. Its white bark renders it more attractive than the aspens, and the characteristic clump effect of its growth is striking, particularly along streams. The tree is short-lived and is rarely as much as 8 inches in diameter. The wood is light and soft, decaying quickly. In New York, it is used for fuelwood and pulpwood only.

Bark - on small stems, reddish brown in color, becoming with age dull, chalky white, not peeling off in papery layers as in paper birch; with distinct black triangular patch below each branch where it joins the stem.

Twigs - slender, reddish brown in color, becoming dull chalky white with age.

Winter buds - small, smooth, pointed, brownish in color, in many instances bending away from the twigs; end bud on the season's growth not terminal.

Leaves - alternate, simple, 3 to 4 inches long, triangular in shape, very long-pointed, shiny on upper surface, margin doubly serrate.

Fruit - a slender, erect, cone-like structure, 3/4 inch long, 1/3 inch thick, on a short stalk; consisting of winged nutlets and 3-lobed scales in alternate layers; both become detached from the central stem in late autumn and winter. Seeds - minute, broad wings, spread by the wind.

Distinguishing features - long-pointed, triangular leaf; dull, chalky-white bark, not peeling in thin layers.

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