Black Birch is a tree found in the Appalachian region of the United States, mostly in moist ravines where there are cool summers. In Ohio, it is only native along the western edge of the Allegheny Plateau. It is prized for its hard, heavy wood (used as a finish wood or veneer, and often stained or varnished), and its excellent yellow fall color. It is named for its mature black bark that resembles that of Black Cherry, and it is also known as Cherry Birch or Sweet Birch. Its twigs, if broken, have the strong scent of wintergreen (Yellow Birch also has this trait, but with reduced aroma), and the leaves and twigs may be distilled to extract this flavoring.
When found in the open, Black Birch may reach 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide as an individual tree. As a member of the Birch Family, it is related to the Alders, Hornbeams, Filberts, and Hophornbeams, in addition to other Birches. It is often found growing alongside Yellow Birch (with which it is often confused) in regions where they overlap, inhabitating cool forests, moist ravines, and also colonizing fields and roadway cuts.
Planting Requirements - Black Birch prefers moist, rich, deep, well-drained, acidic soils in sites that have relatively cool summers. It tolerates drier soils, and somewhat tolerates soils of alkaline or neutral pH, but does not compete well in the wild or perform well in urban landscapes under these conditions. It grows in full sun to partial shade, and is found in zones 3 to 7.
Potential Problems - Black Birch, like most Birches, has many pathogens (leaf diseases, trunk rot, bark cankers) and pests (bronze birch borer being the worst) which can cause either cosmetic or lethal injury to the tree. The most common cases where this occurs is when the tree is grown outside of its natural range, where it undergoes environmental stresses (high pH soils, dry soils, hot summers, and mild winters) that make it much more subject to biological attack.