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Water Birch
Betula occidentalis

About Water Birch (Betula occidentalis) Betula occidentalis (Water Birch) is a species in the Betulaceae family native to western North America. In California its distribution is somewhat patchy, being found in the southern Sierras, Siskiyu and Modoc counties. It typically occurs along streams in mountainous regions from 2,000 ft. to over 11,000 ft. It is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 10 meter high, usually with multiple trunks. The bark is dark red-brown to blackish, and smooth but not exfoliating. The twigs are smooth or thinly hairy and have prominent resinous glands but are odorless when scraped. The leaves are alternate, ovate to rhombic, 1-7 centimeter long and 1-4.5 centimeter broad, with a serrated margin and two to six pairs of veins, and a short petiole up to 1.5 centimeter long. The flowers are wind-pollinated catkins 2-4 centimeter long, the male catkins pendulous, the female catkins erect. The fruit is 2-3 centimeter long and 8-15 millimeter broad, composed of numerous tiny winged seeds packed between the catkin leafs. It is amenable to garden conditions and can be used outside its range in the wild. It has good fall color especially where fall weather is colder.
Plant Description
Plant Type

Max. Height
25 - 32.8 ft (7.6 - 10 m)

Max. Width
25 ft (7.6 m)


Growth Rate
Moderate, Fast

Winter Deciduous

Flower Color
Yellow, Green

Flowering Season

Native Status

Natural Setting
Site Type
Streamsides, springs of medium to high elevation mountains

Shade, Part Shade

Elevation ?
35' - 14460'

Annual Precip. ?
5.2" - 111.3"

Summer Precip. ?
0.34" - 4.35"

Coldest Month ?
17.9° F - 48.5° F

Hottest Month ?
38.4° F - 76.1° F

Humidity ?
1.16 vpd - 30.15 vpd

Soil Description
Prefers coarse-textured, moist to wet soils

Soil PH
5.0 - 7.0


Cold Tolerance(° F)
Tolerates cold to -10° F

Sunset Zones ?
1*, 2*, 3*, 4, 5, 6, 7*, 9*, 10*, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18*, 19*, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

Landscaping Information
Ease of Care
Very Easy

Water Requirement ?
Moderate - High
Extremely Low
Very Low
Moderate - High

Moderately Popular

Max. Summer Water ?
No Summer Water
Keep moist

Prune to shape in late fall as soon as leaves have dropped

Propagation ?
For propagating by seed: 3 mos. stratification. No treatment. with light during germination may give equally good results (Association of Official Seed Analysts 1981; USDA Forest Service 1974).

Common uses
Butterfly Gardens

Nursery Availability
Commonly Available

Sources include: Wikipedia. All text shown in the "About" section of these pages is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Plant observation data provided by the participants of the California Consortia of Herbaria, Sunset information provided by Jepson Flora Project. Propogation from seed information provided by the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden from "Seed Propagation of Native California Plants" by Dara E. Emery. Sources of plant photos include CalPhotos, Wikimedia Commons, and independent plant photographers who have agreed to share their images with Calscape. Other general sources of information include Calflora, CNPS Manual of Vegetation Online, Jepson Flora Project, Las Pilitas, Theodore Payne, Tree of Life, The Xerces Society, and information provided by CNPS volunteer editors, with special thanks to Don Rideout. Climate data used in creation of plant range maps is from PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, using 30 year (1981-2010) annual "normals" at an 800 meter spatial resolution.

Links:   Jepson eFlora Taxon Page  CalPhotos  Wikipedia  Calflora

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