European white birch

Bouleau verruqueux

Betula pendula Roth.Betulaceae (birch family)

Origin: Europe and Asia


European white birch is a small tree with drooping branches, and bright white bark.

Read more about Tree, Bark, Twigs


Leaves are triangular or diamond-shaped with pointed tips and double-toothed edges.

Read more about Leaves


Flowers are tiny, either male or female, clustered in separate catkins on the same tree.

Read more about Flowers


Fruits are tiny winged nutlets, clustered in catkins.

Read more about Fruit


European white birch is a small tree, up to 15 m (50') tall.

The branchlets droop.

Bark on the trunks of young trees is white and slightly peeling horizontally. There are often dark triangular marks on the trunk beneath the junction with the shiny brown branches.

On older trees, vertical black fissures develop on the bark at the base of the tree and extend upward with age.

Twigs are hairless, dotted with small resin glands, and bearing next season's catkins at the tip.

Buds are dark brown, curved, with 3 scales.

Return to top of page


Leaves are 3 - 7 cm (1 1/8" - 2 3/4") long, hairless, triangular or diamond shaped, with a straight or wedge-shaped base and a pointed tip.

Leaf edges are double toothed. The straight leaf veins (5-8 per side) extend from the midvein to the tips of the larger teeth.

Leaves have an alternate arrangement on the branch.

In the fall, leaves turn yellow and remain on the tree for at least 3 weeks longer than the leaves of native birches do.

Return to top of page


Flowers are tiny, either male or female, each kind clustered in separate catkins on the same tree. Flowers mature as the leaves emerge.

Male flowers are borne in catkins 4 - 9 cm (1 1/2" - 3 1/2") long, and are brown before opening, yellow when mature.

Female flowers are borne in green catkins 1 - 3 cm (3/8" - 1 1/8") long.

Next season's male catkins can be seen in groups of 2 to 4 on the tree over winter.

Return to top of page


Fruits are tiny nutlets, clustered in catkins 2 - 4 cm (3/4" - 1 1/2") long.

Each nutlet has 2 thin papery wings and is borne on a 3-lobed scale.

Catkins break down and the nutlets are shed from the tree during the fall and winter.

Return to top of page

FASCINATING FACTS ABOUT European white birch


European white birch, also called silver or weeping birch, is native to Europe and Asia. It has long been planted and their are numerous cultivated varieties (cultivars). First introduced to North America in the mid-18th century, European white birch has been extensively planted, and has become naturalized in parts of eastern North America. Like other birches, European white birch, is a fast-growing, short-lived species that usually survives less than 50 years.

Derivation of names

The genus name Betula is the classical name for the birches. The common name birch is thought to derive from the Sanskrit word bhurja, which means "a tree whose bark is used for writing upon."

Pendula means bending or drooping, from the Latin pendere, to hang. This and the common name "weeping", refer to the trees drooping branchlets.

Commercial use

The wood of European white birch is durable and has been used to make skis, clogs, and spindles. In Russia, extracts from the bark have been used to preserve leather. As a fast-growing and short-lived tree, it has been used in forestry plantations to protect vulnerable, slow-growing saplings of trees such as beech.

Related species

European white birch resembles grey birch (Betula populifolia), which is native to eastern Canada (including eastern Ontario) and the northeastern United States. Grey birch differs in having leaves with long tapering tips and male catkins in clusers of one or two. Grey birch is not commonly planted in urban settings.

Return to top of page

European white birch IN TORONTO

European white birch's place in Toronto's urban forest

At one time, European white birch was a popular choice for planting on public and private property. It still can be found in many parks and foundation plantings. It has escaped cultivation and become naturalized in sunny well-drained sites. Unfortunately it can become invasive so should not be planted adjacent to natural areas.

Landscape value and potential for home planting

European white birch is no longer recommended for home planting because of its susceptibility to pests and its invasiveness.

Pests and diseases: European white birch is particularly susceptible to bronze birch borer (Agrilus anxius). This insect, native to Canada, attacks many species of birch, causing the crown to thin and the leaves to drop prematurely. For more information on this pest, see Natural Resources Canada factsheet. European white birch may also be affected by birch rust, Melampsoridium betulinum that is common in the northern hemisphere and causes browning foliage, but does not necessarily kill the tree.

Return to top of page

WHERE CAN I SEE European white birch?

Find trees on Tree Tour maps at Canadian Tree Tours:

Return to top of page


Return to top of page