Florida Forestry Information
Betulaceae
The Birch Family
 
The birch family is composed of about 40 species of trees and shrubs that are restricted to the Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to the Himalayan Mountains in the east, and to the Southeastern United States in the west.  Many of these trees have attractive foliage and/or a showy distinctive bark, and are used widely as ornamentals.  Three of these trees are are common in Florida and introduced here. 

 Click on the links below for introductions to some of the trees of this family:
 
river birch
American hornbeam
hophornbeam
 
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Betula nigra 
river birch 
 
Habit 

The river birch is a medium-sized tree, 70-80 feet in height and 15-30 inches in diameter.  The branches start 15-20 feet from the ground and are large and arching, forming an irregularly spreading crown.  The roots are shallow and widespread. 

Leaves 

Leaves are simple, alternate, and deciduous.  The leaves of the river birch are 1-2 inches wide, rhombic in shape, with an acute apex.  The leaf base is wedge-shaped.  Leaf margins are sharply, doubly serrate (two sets of teeth).  The leaves are bright green above, paler and pubescent below.  The petioles are slender, somewhat flattened, and pubescent, and about 1/2 inch in length. 
 
Flowers 
 
This tree is monoecous with unisexual flowers.  Although both sexual forms of the unisexual flowers occur on the same tree, they are in separate catkins.  The male catkins are about 1 inch in length and are reddish-brown in color.  The female catkins are 1/3 inch in length and are green and pubescent. 
 
Fruit 
 
Fruit is a cylindrical erect casing, about 1-1.5 inches long, containing many small winged nutlets. 
 
Twigs 

The twigs are slender, zig-zagging, orange- or reddish-brown, and with short stiff reddish-brown pubescence.  The pith is homogeneous. 
 
Bark 

The bark is reddish-brown on young individuals, becoming white or salmon pink and papery, then gray to gray-brown and coarsely scaled. 
 
Habitat 

The river birch is the only birch in the south to be found at low altitudes.  It is most common along streams and in wet bottomlands in association with American elm, sycamore, red and silver maples, hackberry, boxelder, willows, and poplars.  This tree occurs in southern New England west through Pennsylvania, and southern Wisconsin to southeastern Minnesota; south to northern Florida in the east and eastern Texas in the west. 
 
Use 

The wood of the river birch is used locally for fuel and occasionally for woodenware and turnery.  It has limited ornamental use. 
 

Click on the link below to see more information on and/or images of this tree (use the "Back" function to return here):
 
Query the USDA Plant Database
 
 
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Carpinus caroliniana 
American hornbeam, blue beech, ironwood, musclewood 
 
American hornbeam, photo by Chris DemersHabit 

The American hornbeam is a large shrub or small tree that rarely attains a height greater than 25-35 feet or a diameter greater than 15-20 inches.  It has a characteristic short, commonly twisted trunk that rises from a shallow, spreading anchorage of lateral roots.  This tree branches very close to the ground. 
 
Leaves 

American hornbeam leaves, photo by Chris DemersLeaves are simple, alternate, and deciduous.  The leaves of the American hornbeam are 1-2 inches wide, oval in shape, with an acute apex.  The leaf base is rounded.  Leaf margins are sharply, doubly serrate (two sets of teeth).  The leaves are dull blue-green and smooth above, pale yellow-green and pubescent below.  The leaf petioles are slender, pubescent, and are about 1/3 inch in length. 
 
Flowers 
 
This tree is monoecous with unisexual flowers.  Although both sexual forms of the unisexual flowers occur on the same tree, they are in separate catkins.  The male catkins are about 1 inch in length, with scales red above the middle, green below.  The female catkins are 1/2 inch in length and are green and pubescent. 
 
Fruit 
 
Fruit is a small wingless nut, attached to a 3-lobed leafy bract, which occur in clusters of 3-6 inches in length. 
 
Twigs 

The twigs are slender, zig-zagging, deep red to reddish-purple.  The pith is homogeneous. 
 
Bark 

The bark is tight, thin, smooth, blue-gray, occasionally with a small knob-like bumps. 
 
Habitat 

The American hornbeam is an understory tree found on deep, rich, moist loams, along streams, and in swamps and wet bottomlands in association with many hardwoods.  This tree is widespread through southeastern Canada and the eastern and southeastern U.S. 
 
Use 

The wood of the American hornbeam is hard, tough, heavy.  As such it is used in limited quantities for tool handles.  The tree also has limited use as an ornamental. 
 

Click on the link below to see more information on and/or images of this tree (use the "Back" function to return here):
 
Query the USDA Plant Database
 
 
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Ostrya virginiana 
hophornbeam 
 
hophornbeam, photo by Chris DemersHabit 

The hophornbeam is a small tree that rarely attains a height greater than 20-30 feet or a diameter greater than 15-20 inches.  It has a small columnar bole, and a round-topped or vase-like, open crown.  It has a moderately deep root system. 
 
Leaves 

Leaves are simple, alternate, and deciduous.  They are 1.5-2.5 inches wide, oval, long, and tapered in shape, with an acute apex.  The leaf base is rounded, heart-shaped, or wedge-shaped.  Leaf margins are sharply, serrate.  The leaves are dull yellow-green above, paler and pubescent below.  The leaf petioles are slender, pubescent, and are about 1/4 inch in length. 
 
Flowers 
 
This tree is monoecous with unisexual flowers.  Although both sexual forms of the unisexual flowers occur on the same tree, they are in separate catkins.  The male catkins are about 1/2 inch in length, with reddish-brown scales.  The female catkins are 1/4 inch in length and are light green and with a little bit of red above the middle. 
 
Fruit 
 
Fruit is a small brown nut, about 1/4 inch long, completely enclosed on a papery sac.  These fruits occur in cone-like structures 1.5-2 inches long.  These structures resemble a hop, thus the name of the tree. 
 
Twigs 

The twigs are slender, zig-zagging, yellowish-brown to orange-brown, pubescent through the first winter.  The pith is homogeneous. 
 
Bark 

The bark is reddish-brown and cherry-like on young stems.  On mature stems, the bark is gray-brown and is broken into narrow, long, plate-like scales, which are free at the ends, giving the trunk a shredded appearance. 
 
Habitat 

The hophornbeam grows on slopes and ridges, sometimes in bottomlands.  This tree is an understory tree associated with many hardwoods.  This tree is widespread through southeastern Canada and the eastern and southeastern U.S. 
 
Use 

The wood of the hophornbeam is used locally for posts, tool handles, and mallets. 
 
 

Click on the link below to see more information on and/or images of this tree (use the "Back" function to return here):
 
Query the USDA Plant Database
 
 
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