Across the northern hemisphere are scattered over 100 species of birch trees, but in Maine, there is only a handful.
Birch trees in Maine can vary from shorter, shrubby varieties to delicate single-trunk species, and all share the stark, uniquely-textured bark that most birch trees are known for.
If you are looking for a birch tree to complement your MA landscape your options may be more limited than in other US states, but you will still find a species that meets your needs.
From the native yellow birch to the unusual blueleaf, most of these cold hardy trees will grow and thrive in your garden, orchard, or any other part of your property.
When it comes to the best uses for yellow birch, they are lauded for their stunning autumn appeal which yields vivid yellow and gold foliage. They also make a good choice of shade trees due to their expansive canopy, but for that reason, they need plenty of space to grow without obstruction. Be sure to choose your planting location wisely.
The yellow birch is native to Maine and sits firmly in the old-growth category of trees, with an average age of 150 years, and some even live as long as 300 years when grown in the right conditions. They tend to live longer than most birch species, so if you’re looking for longevity in your birch tree, this variety will work for you.
These trees can tolerate both acidic and alkaline soil and prefer rich, loamy, well-draining soil. It can also tolerate partial shade and has no particular water needs beyond average rainfall.
Other Common Names: Golden Birch
Growing Zones: 3-7
Average Size at Maturity: 60-75 feet tall, with 40-50 feet spread
Flowering Season: Early Spring
This next birch variety can be found in many parts of coastal Maine and is distinguished by its stark white, peeling bark and drooping green-yellow catkins.
The paper birch is a highly valued species in MA due to its historic resource – it is used to build birch bark canoes by the Wabanaki people, as well as snowshoes, baskets, and containers. Today it is even used to manufacture household items like toothpicks and clothespins.
When it comes to growing conditions, the paper birch can thrive in both full sun and partial shade and prefers moist, well-draining soil. It is not fussy when it comes to growing conditions or maintenance, as it needs very minimal pruning and light mulching.
It is an ideal option for birch trees in Maine as it loves mild, temperate summers and long winters.
Other Common Names: White Birch, Canoe Birch
Growing Zones: 2-7
Average Size at Maturity: 50-80 feet tall, with 30-40 feet spread
Flowering Season: Spring
The blueleaf birch is named such due to the green-bluish tinge of its leaves. It has pale white bark with a reddish undertone and is an attractive choice as an ornamental specimen if you are living in the right hardiness zone. It has serrated, ovoid-shaped leaves, and in late spring yields yellow monoecious catkins.
The blueleaf is largely associated with Canadian birch trees, where it is a well-established native. These trees prefer cool, moist conditions and can survive and thrive with full sun and/orpartial shade.
Keep in mind that though the blueleaf prefers cooler conditions, it is only cold hardy to zone 5 at the lowest, which means its best chances of thriving are in southern MA. Make sure you know the growing zones your area falls into before planting a blueleaf birch.
Other Common Names: Blue Birch, Bouleau Bleu (french)
Growing Zones: 5-8
Average Size at Maturity: 50-70 feet tall
Fruiting Season: May
The attractive sweet birch, with its red-brown bark and bright foliage, is an excellent choice as a specimen tree with year-round appeal, though it is particularly stunning in fall when its bright foliage contrasts nicely with its richly dark-brown bark. These trees attract local wildlife, such as birds, bees, butterflies, deer, moose, and many smaller mammals.
The sweet birch is an exceptionally useful tree, with its timber used in furniture and flooring, its inner bark and leaves used to extract oil, and its sap used to produce both syrup and birch beer.
For the best possible outcome always grow sweet birch in full sunlight and rich, moist, well-draining, slightly acidic soil. They will be stunted by poor-draining soil, and will not grow in dry conditions. They are cold-hardy and low maintenance, with no real need for fertilizing or pruning other than to serve an aesthetic purpose.
Other Common Names: Black Birch, Cherry Birch, Mahogany Birch, Spice Birch, Black Birch
Growing Zones: 3-7
Average Size at Maturity: 40-70 feet tall, with 35 to 45 feet spread
Flowering Season: April and May
Landscapers love the gray birch, due to its year-round appeal. These trees are known for their slim trunks and branches, eye-catching papery white bark with dark horizontal lenticels, and bright green foliage that turns yellow in the fall.
The gray birch is adaptable to varying soil conditions but prefers slightly acidic, well-draining soil. Plenty of sunlight (4-6 hours a day), light pruning and a layer of mulch for water retention will help these moisture-loving trees grow well.
Pruning will also help to protect your gray birch from pests, though they are naturally resistant to pests and diseases. These fast-growing trees are also an excellent choice for forest repopulation after forest fires.
It’s important to note that the typical gray birch only lives for an average of 30 years, so if you are expecting a generational tree that lasts for 300 years, this is not the birch for you.
Other Common Names: Grey Birch
Growing Zones: 3-7
Average Size at Maturity: 20 to 40 feet high, with a 10-20 foot spread
Fruiting Season: Late Fall
As you may have guessed by its name, the mountain paper birch is exceptionally similar to the paper birch – so much so, that they were once considered to be the same tree! To differentiate the mountain paper birch from the paper birch, look out for its noticeably shinier bark, lack of hair on the twigs and petiole, more heart-shaped leaves, and reddish-pink inner bark.
Mountain paper birch tends to grow with a single trunk, but their many branches will grow outward, almost horizontally, to develop into a broad and rounded crown.
These trees are exceptionally cold-hardy and can thrive even in the coldest parts of northern MA, and they prefer elevated sites and moist soil. For best results, the mountain paper birch needs abundant direct sunlight and rich, moist, well-draining soil. They require no fertilizer and only light pruning to encourage branching.
Other Common Names: Mountain White Birch, Eastern Paper Birch
Growing Zones: 1-6
Average Size at Maturity: 40-80 feet tall
Flowering Season: Winter
Birch trees in Maine, while not as showy as flowering trees are a fairly common sight, as their verdant green leaves in spring, golden yellow foliage in fall, and eye-catching peeling bark in winter, provides year-round appeal.
Despite their beauty birches tend to be relatively short-lived trees, so if you favor a species that will remain a part of the landscape for generations, you may want to consider planting oak trees in their place.
Though most Maine birch species favor cold weather, not every species will thrive in every part of the state. For example, the entirety of Maine falls under the USDA growing zones 3b to 6a, and while the sweet birch can be grown anywhere in MA, the blueleaf will only thrive in the southern third of the state.
Make sure to check which Maine growing zone your property falls under before choosing a birch tree for your landscape.
Otherwise, good quality soil, a compatible environment, and sufficient sunlight should be enough to set your birch trees on the right track.
- 18 Common Trees Native to Maine (Includes Evergreen Species)
- 6 Types of Birch Trees to Grow or Admire in Maine
- 8 Different Types of Oak Trees That Grow in Maine
- 8 Cherry Trees to Grow in Maine (Edible & Ornamental)
- 10 Fruit Trees That Grow in Maine (& Will Thrive)
Fern discovered her love of gardening later in life but has not wasted any time catching up on missed years. She has contributed to the planting and care of over 100 different fruit, nut, native and ornamental trees over the past 5 years on her property.
Fern has a special interest in biodynamic farming, food production and closed loop agriculture.
When not in the garden or exercising her dogs, you will find her preserving the harvest or with her nose buried in a novel.