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Featured Plant: Grey Birch

By High Line Gardens | September 18, 2019

Ornamental gardeners may point out the unique form and chevron-marked bark (both on display this season). Or perhaps they focus on the glossy green leaves that move in the wind and turn an attractive yellow in fall. The practical gardener will tell you that the tree is a highly adaptable, pioneer species, able to establish in poor soils where others cannot. Still others may mention the edible attributes of the tree, such as the fermented “birch beer” concocted from the birch sap.

Grey birch is part of our medicinal plants celebration this September. We invite you to participate by joining a tour, attending our wellness fair on September 21, and downloading our medicinal plant guide.

Betula populifolia is monoecious, meaning male and female flowers exist on the same specimen. Not only is this an interesting characteristic from a botanical standpoint, but it adds another dimension of aesthetic interest, especially in winter. The flowering structures of birch trees are called “catkins.” In winter, the grey birches exhibit both the immature male catkins, as well as the matured, seed head-like female fruiting structures. The immature male catkins are thin and curved, longer than the female parts. The matured female fruiting structures are actually from last year, and appear denser, shorter, and squatter than their male counterpoints are. Together, the two structures provide not only botanical interest, but also enhance the winter silhouette of the trees.

PLANTING TIP:
Betula populifolia provides year-round interest in the garden. We recommend planting in groups, rather than a lone specimen. Not only does the species prefer a colony, but a grouping is much more naturalistic and visually impactful. The tree is native to Eastern North America, recorded from Quebec in Canada to its southern limit in Shenandoah National Park. While it will establish in poor, disturbed soil sites, it is most at home in moist woodlands.

WHERE TO FIND THIS PLANT:
You can view our most striking stand of grey birches in the Gansevoort Woodland, between Gansevoort St. and West 13th St.

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