Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Northeast Wetland Flora
Field Office Guide to Plant Species
Betula lenta L.
- Family: Birch (Betulaceae)
- Flowering: April-May
- Field Marks: This birch is distinguished by its cherry-like bark, its wintergreen scent and
taste, and its smooth scales that subtend each samara.
- Habitat: Rich, moist woods.
- Habit: Tree up to 75 feet tall, with a slender crown; trunk up to 2 feet in diameter.
- Bark: Dark brown and smooth at first, becoming ashy-gray and furrowed at maturity, resembling that of a cherry tree; inner bark when scratched has strong scent of wintergreen.
- Twigs: Slender, reddish brown to ashy gray, with the scent and taste of wintergreen; leaf scars alternate.
- Leaves: Alternate, simple, ovate to broadly oblong, pointed at the tip, rounded to heart-shaped at the base, sharply double-toothed, up to 4 inches long, up to 2 1/2 inches wide, hairy on the veins on the lower surface, with 9-12 pairs of veins; leaf stalks short.
- Flowers: Male and female borne separately on the same tree, the male in elongated spikes that form during the summer, remaining on the tree during the winter, and opening in early spring, the female in ovoid, erect, sessile spikes.
- Sepals: Minute, 4-parted, with one segment usually larger than the others, subtended by scales, the male scales more or less rounded, the female scales 3-lobed.
- Petals: 0.
- Stamens: 2.
- Pistils: Ovary inferior; stigmas 2.
- Fruits: Many samaras crowded in a short-cylindric spike 3/4-1 1/4 inches long, each samara subtended by a smooth, 3-lobed scale.
- Notes: This species has ornamental value. In earlier days, this species was the source of oil of wintergreen. Birch beer is made from the sap of this tree. Grouse eat the flowering spikes, buds, and seeds of this species, while several kinds of mammals browse on twigs and young leaves.
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