Birch Trees in Eliza Howell Park

Kathleen Garrett

February 9, 2023

A stand of birch trees greets visitors to EHP near the entrance close to the stick sculpture.

Gray birch at entrance to park

A couple of other small stands (two or three trees) are nearby along the east edge of the loop with a larger grouping further into the park right next to the road.

Large group of gray birch

More groupings appear inside the loop along the south and west sides of the loop. All of these birch trees were intentionally planted in these groupings, and most of these birch are gray birch, with a few groupings of river birch.

Stand of river birch

Both types of birch have several trunks, offering more opportunity to enjoy their beautiful and unusual trunks.

Gray birch have white trunks with dark, triangular marks where the branches begin.

Triangular markings on gray birch

Gray birch trunks do not peel in sheets as white (or paper/canoe) birch do. River birch has a very “peely” or shaggy bark and is reddish. 

Peeling trunk of river birch

The thin, long branches and long-tipped leaves of gray birch readily stir in a breeze where other trees might not. River birch prefer a wet ground and, when left on their own to find a home, are often found near rivers or in wet woods.

Both gray and river birch are native to the East Coast. The names of birch can be tricky, pointing to the necessity of having Latin names: gray birch is also called yellow, white, wire, and aspen-leafed birch. River birch can also be called black, red, and water birch.

Both species grow quickly, but they do not live long – about 20-25 years. While they are around, people aren’t the only ones who benefit. Several species of caterpillars and butterflies rely on birch trees for larval food, and birch tree seeds, held through the winter in catkins, supply food for wintering birds at a time when seeds can be scarce.

Catkins on gray birch
Catkins on river birch

At one spot at Eliza Howell Park, rather than a three, five, or seven group of either gray or river birch, there is just one gray and one river birch.

One gray birch, one river birch

Perhaps they had their own ideas about what would be most appealing.

One response to “Birch Trees in Eliza Howell Park”

  1. I especially love the final line of this birch essay. Thank you!


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