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Photo by Ayinde Listhrop

Featured Plant: Whitespire Grey Birch

By High Line Gardens | October 24, 2021

Betula populifolia ‘Whitespire’ is a cultivar of grey birch that was selected and introduced in 1983 by Edward R. Hasselkus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This small deciduous tree is native to the northeastern quadrant of the North American continent and is one of the most elegant and easily recognized trees on the High Line.

Birch trees are considered a pioneer species, which have a niche for surviving within poor and dry upland soils or disturbed sites in the urban landscape. These environments can span from scorched forests to man-made sites along train tracks. Averaging a height of thirty feet and often multi-stemmed, they have an open-crowned habit that provides shade as an understory tree. “Whitespire” was selected for both its aesthetic qualities, as well as its resistance to bronze birch borer, a common pest of white and grey birch species.

On the High Line our grey birches create a dominant presence year round, particularly in our pioneer woodland edge where the silvery trunks and diving branches create an intimate space for our visitors to enjoy.

Historically, grey birches are used to produce high-quality plywood, drum casings, and sewing spools. The sap that flows in springtime is used to make birch beer, similar in taste and quality to Root beer (made historically with sassafras, Sassafras albidum, another species found on the High Line).

Betula populifolia ‘Whitespire’ grows well in a wide range of conditions, performing quite well in rocky, nutrient-deficient soils, as well as organic, woodland soils. Grey birches are considered a colonizing species, growing along the edges of railroads and other disturbed sites, making it an ideal candidate for sites where many trees have difficulty establishing themselves. They are adaptable, and have many uses in the ornamental landscape.

Whitespire’ grey birch can be found growing in the Donald Pels and Wendy Keys Gansevoort Woodland to the Woodland Edge, Gansevoort to 13th streets

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TD Bank is the Presenting Green Sponsor of the High Line.