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What is a Cherry Birch?

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  • Written By: Casey Kennedy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The cherry birch, or Betula lenta, is generally a small- to medium-sized perennial tree that is a member of the Betulaceae, or birch, family. A native plant found primarily in the eastern portion of the United States, these trees may grow as far north as the southern part of Maine and all the way down into the northern part of Georgia. The sweet birch is another common name for this tree.

Prized for the bark’s coloration and plate-like appearance, the cherry birch typically grows from 50 to 75 feet (1,524 to 2,286 cm) in height and has brownish-black, cherry-like bark with reddish-brown colored stems. In May through June, it produces dense cylindrical flower clusters known as catkins that grow in inconspicuous colors of yellow, red, green, or brown. Considered a rather aromatic tree, leaves and twigs have the odor of wintergreen when crushed.

These trees not only smell of wintergreen, but also have wintergreen oil in their bark. This oil once had a use as a flavoring for candy and medicine, but advances in technology deemed this method wasteful. The same oil comes from processing wood alcohol and salicylic acid.

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While the cherry birch typically thrives in the cool dampness of the forest, it requires a great deal of maintenance when used in landscaping. Individuals that wish to try growing this tree should plant it in an area that has cool, moist soil. The tree does not do well in complete shade, however—instead, it requires full to partial sun for its leaves to grow properly. To accomplish this, individuals may try planting these trees on the north or east side of a house, since this will allow the best chance for providing afternoon shade.

Once a tree becomes established, individuals should take steps to maintain it by providing it with adequate water, mulch and fertilizer. Young trees generally require several hours of watering once a week to provide them with the proper moisture. Mulch made of wood chips or leaf compost can help keep the roots of the cherry birch tree cool and the soil moist. While a fertilizer applied in late spring or early fall can help to fix soil problems, if the tree appears stressed, the addition of nutrients to the soil will not generally correct the problem. Instead, individuals should apply fertilizer only when there is an actual imbalance or nutrient shortage in the soil.

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